President Barack Obama has fired the deputy commander of the Bellevue-based U.S. Strategic Command from his duties after accusations that he passed counterfeit poker chips at a Council Bluffs casino last June, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
Vice Adm. Timothy Giardina has been reassigned to Navy staff at the Pentagon and will move to Washington, D.C., within the next three weeks, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy's top spokesman.
Under military rules, the reassignment also means Giardina is being demoted from three-star rank to two.
His attorney, Brian Rhoten, didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.
As StratCom's deputy, Giardina had been the No. 2-ranked official in charge of the Pentagon's nuclear forces since December 2011.
In June, Giardina is believed to have used at least $1,500 in fake gambling chips while playing poker at the Horseshoe Casino, said Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber.
Casino employees discovered the counterfeit chips and alerted the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
A month later, the Iowa agency notified StratCom. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service began its own investigation. Iowa wrapped up its probe in late August and decided against filing charges, deferring any criminal action to the military. NCIS investigators are still continuing their work, Kirby said.
Giardina's boss, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, suspended him from oversight of nuclear weapons or any other responsibilities involving classified material Sept. 3 and recommended his dismissal from the position, said Navy Capt. Pamela Kunze, a StratCom spokeswoman. The decision wasn't made public until Sept. 28, in response to a World-Herald query.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel forwarded Kehler's recommendation to the President, who approved it late last week. It took until yesterday to clear administrative hurdles. His new duties haven't been determined yet.
“It's the Navy's (decision) now,” said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. “They'll decide what to do.”
Giardina, 57, is a 1979 graduate of the Naval Academy and career submarine officer. He was deputy commander and chief of staff at the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Honolulu before assuming his duties at StratCom in December 2011. His tour was scheduled to end this year.
The removal of such a high-ranking officer for misconduct is uncommon.
“I know of no other case ever of a deputy commander who was relieved for cause,” retired Air Force Gen. Eugene Habiger, who led StratCom from 1996-98, told the Associated Press.
A senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the dismissal shows the seriousness of the case.
“We hold flag and general officers to a very high standard of conduct and behavior,” the official said. “Gen. Kehler clearly decided he had lost confidence in (Giardina's) ability.”