By Barbara Starr
The first four-star general to command U.S. military operations in Africa is facing the possibility of being demoted after an investigation by the Pentagon inspector general found that Gen. William "Kip" Ward spent thousands of dollars on inappropriate travel expenses, according to several administration officials directly familiar with the case.
Ward had been known to be under investigation but this is the first indication of the results of the probe.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was presented with the findings this week and is expected to make a decision on the case within days, the officials said Wednesday.
The inspector general found that Ward had engaged in several "inappropriate" activities, including submitting expense reports with extravagant and unacceptable charges, inappropriate use of military staff, and misuse of government funds, according to one administration official. The official described the amount involved as "not an insignificant sum of money."
Panetta must now decide whether to allow Ward to permanently retire at a four-star rank with full retirement pay, or demote him back to a three stars, the last rank at which it is believed he served honorably. Retirement pay varies widely depending on years of service, but many four-stars receive well over $100,000 a year.
It is not yet publicly known if any charges will be recommended through the military justice system.
Under military rules and laws, a secretary of defense makes personnel decisions about three- and four- star officers.
Ward went through a public retirement ceremony from Africa Command in April of last year, but did not retire pending the outcome of the investigation. Since leaving Africa Command, he has worked in an Army staff job out of the limelight, serving as a two-star general. Under Army guidelines, a four-star who is not serving at that rank for 60 days is automatically demoted until the case is resolved.
CNN has asked the Army for a comment from Ward but has not yet received a response.