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Ex-general has few answers

By the end of Tuesday, his second day under cross-examination, retired four-star Army general Wallace Nutting was down to this response: "I don't recall."

That was Nutting's answer to several questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Peluso concerning the details of who said what to whom in 1988 when the enormity of problems at Sooner Defense of Florida Inc. no longer could be ignored.

Nutting of Maine and six other former Sooner officials are accused of defrauding the U.S. military of $40-million by billing for costs never incurred at the Lakeland munitions factory, faking weapons tests and trying to obstruct a government investigation.

Nutting, 65, has testified that in June 1988 a Sooner financial officer revealed in a memo that the company had overbilled the government about $6-million. Sooner's board of directors ordered that corrective action be taken, Nutting testified.

But during sometimes testy cross-examination Tuesday, Peluso suggested that someone of Nutting's background must have known, or at least suspected, that fraud or criminal acts were a likely factor in Sooner's massive problems.

Nutting was adamant that he and the board ordered action but was vague about specifics.

"Didn't you ask how it could be that Sooner could have so grossly overbilled?" Peluso asked.

"I don't recall," Nutting replied.

Nor did he recall another Sooner financial officer telling him that her boss's memo about the $6-million "is only the half of it."

Nutting said the overbilling was "a serious matter," but said he "never knew Sooner was falsifying billings to the government."

The company has alleged the Defense Department harassed Sooner out of business because the company reported problems in weapons specifications and because the government favored other contractors.

Peluso asked Nutting why no such allegations were among notes Nutting made of a 1987 meeting of top Sooner officials in Key West who were trying to figure out why the company was failing.

Nutting said the purpose of that meeting was strictly internal self-appraisal.

"It wouldn't be appropriate to interfere with that scrutiny by throwing stones at someone else," Nutting said.

The trial, now in its fifth month, is expected to last into July.