Hill F-16 jets refurbished, given to Indonesia

U.S. Air Force pilots assigned as Ferry Cell 5 prepare their Indonesian F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft prior to departure on March 14, 2017, from Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — After espionage charges against him were dropped by U.S. prosecutors in 2017, a military contractor has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the government and two Hill Air Force Base civilian officials.

Scott A. Williams, 54, alleges he was a victim of malicious prosecution based upon false, incomplete and misleading information reported to Air Force investigators over his involvement in supporting the transfer of F-16s to Indonesia.

Williams said he missed a memorial service for his recently deceased teenage son after federal agents arrested him Feb. 19, 2016, and he was held without bail at the Davis County Jail.

The suit said Williams lost his job, was saddled with $160,000 in legal bills for his criminal defense, and has sustained humiliation and mortification “due to the false perception ... that (Williams) was a spy and a traitor to his country.”

Williams worked at Hill for F-16 manufacturer Northrop Grumman and later for STS Systems Integration, a company that worked with the Foreign Military Sales unit at Hill in the transfer and support of surplus F-16 fighter jets to the Indonesian government.

F-16s delivered from Hill to Indonesia

Lt. Col. Beau Wilkins, 514th Flight Test Squadron F-16, makes a high-speed pass in an Indonesian F-16C Fighting Falcon during a functional check flight Nov. 21, 2017, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The jet is the last of 24 F-16s to be delivered to the Indonesian Air Force as part of an acquisition agreement approved by the U.S. government.

On Feb. 17, 2016, an indictment lodged in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City accused Williams of four felony charges. Allegations included unlawful exportation of two F-16 brake assemblies and technical documents to Indonesia; falsifying documents; and illegal use of an external computer hard drive containing sensitive documents.

Williams’ lawsuit, filed July 25, said everything was done openly and with prior authorization by program policies, but his work came against an alleged background of hostility toward him by Chalon Keller, who was deputy director of the Foreign Military Sales unit.

That undercurrent began, the suit said, after Indonesian officials beginning in 2011 expressed a preference of dealing with Williams rather than Keller and other female managers in the unit.

“The cultural bias and expressed conduct ... regarded women to be inherently less professionally skilled and knowledgeable than men” working in the F-16 transition program, the suit said.

“An inevitable and always present consequence of the workplace conduct of the Indonesian military officers who interfaced with the government women managers ... was that the Indonesians directed by choice their F-16 involvements to Mr. Williams given that these officers believed that (Williams) possessed superior military workplace skills and knowledge,” the suit added.

Keller objected and said Williams had “become too close to the Indonesians” and it was “undermining her authority and credibility,” according to the suit.

STS Systems terminated Williams in May 2013 after Keller pushed for it, with an implication that the company could lose its contract otherwise, the suit said.

Keller told Air Force investigators, according to the suit, that Williams’ “acquisition and shipping of the two brake assemblies was undertaken to further ingratiate his financial and professional fortunes with the Indonesian military.”

She also said Williams had been inappropriately using his contractor position to “foster social relationships with Indonesian military personnel which compromised the professional boundaries and duties of his federal contractor support services while concurrently subjecting the F-16 FMS program to unwanted and unnecessary security risks.”

The brake assemblies were older, surplus F-16 parts stored at Hill for use in the program of supporting the jets after their transfer to other nations’ air forces, Williams’ suit said.

He made about 30 other shipments using the same procedures of F-16 spare parts and other components, it said.

The F-16 training documents that were transferred to an Indonesian officer consisted of four pages from an operations manual that is not regarded as classified and is available on the internet, according to the suit.

On July 27, 2017, a federal judge in Salt Lake City dismissed all charges against Williams at the request of U.S. prosecutors.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office gave no explanation, but Williams’ attorney in the civil suit, Philip Patterson of Ogden, said Monday it was Williams’ position that “the government lacked evidence” to pursue the charges.

Patterson said Williams is now employed by another contractor at Hill, working on missile systems rather than aircraft.

Patterson and Williams both declined to discuss the case.

Keller is now a professional practice assistant professor at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. Efforts to contact her were not immediately successful.

The second individual defendant named in the suit is Heidi Gibson, identified as an aircraft acquisition material manager in the Foreign Military Sales program at Hill. Williams alleged she played a role in Keller’s accusations to Air Force investigators.

The base’s Public Affairs Office was asked for comment on behalf of the base, Keller and Gibson. No response had been given by Tuesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office had no immediate comment on the suit, spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said Wednesday.

According to past Standard-Examiner coverage, the U.S.-Indonesia deal was a $700 million aircraft acquisition and refurbishment program in which Hill maintenance workers upgraded the avionics and overhauled the wings, landing gear and other components on 24 aircraft.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801 625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

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