Ex-weapons inspector accused of sex crimes to speak on campus

He is a former major in the United States Marine Corps. After that, he joined the United Nations weapons inspections team, eventually serving as chief.

Since his book Endgame was published, he has been considered an expert on politics in the Persian Gulf region, consistently questioning the decisions of the current administration.

But, during the past few weeks, Scott Ritter has come to be known as something not so complimentary. He has been accused of being a sexual criminal.

The 41-year-old Ritter, who is scheduled to speak at USF on Tuesday, has come under fire since records of a 2001 arrest were released in late January. In April 2001, Ritter allegedly tried to meet with a 14-year-old girl. He was instead confronted by Colonie, N.Y. police officers. He was given a warning and released.

Two months later in June 2001, Ritter was again picked up by Colonie police. Ritter allegedly had arranged for a sexual rendezvous with someone he thought was a 16-year-old girl. He had scheduled a meeting with the girl at a local Burger King. But, as he soon discovered, the apparent teenage girl was actually a police investigator.

Police charged Ritter with attempted endangerment of a child, which is a misdemeanor. The case was adjourned on contemplation of dismissal and the records were sealed.

But last month, the assistant district attorney was fired by her boss, and the case has since come to life, sparking a firestorm of controversy. Currently, the files are in the hands of the federal government, which will probe the case and decide if federal charges are necessary.

The two weeks of fallout since the story broke have produced some surprises. Ritter canceled a scheduled trip to Iraq where he planned to offer advice to the Iraqi government.

In addition, Schenectady County Community College in New York has become the first institution to act on the Ritter controversy. The college canceled Ritter’s scheduled Feb. 12 visit and forfeited the guaranteed $4,000. The Associated Press reported that university officials felt the “unfortunate emphasis” placed on Ritter’s alleged misconduct forced the cancellation.

Ritter’s Tuesday visit to USF is a rescheduled date. He was originally due to appear during celebrations surrounding the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

Laurie Woodward, associate director for student affairs at USF, said the university has no plans to follow Schenectady’s lead. She said the Ritter lecture will go on as scheduled.

“As far as we know, and we’ve checked into it, he hasn’t been convicted of anything,” Woodward said. “People are accused of crimes in this world all the time, and we presume he is innocent until proven guilty.”

Woodward said the visit, which is co-sponsored by the University Lecture Series and the Campus Greens, will cost a total of $6,650. There is a contract with Ritter, so a cancellation would also require a forfeiture of the cost.

Woodward said security will be increased for the lecture but not because of Ritter’s alleged actions.

“There are security concerns because of the topic of the lecture (the war in Iraq) and because of what’s going on in the world right now,” Woodward said.

The situation, at least on the surface, draws comparisons to USF’s most famous case, that of professor Sami Al-Arian. For a year and a half, Al-Arian has been banned from the campus. He has been accused of terrorist ties but has never been charged.

Michelle Carlyon, media relations coordinator for USF, said the situations are completely different.

“Al-Arian posed a specific and immediate threat to the security of campus,” Carlyon said. “Mr. Ritter does not.”

However, Schenectady officials told the Associated Press that security was exactly the reason that the lecture was canceled. They said if they were to allow the lecture, they would have had to hire extra security forces.

“We decided we didn’t want to fund something where security was going to be an issue for the students,” Donna Smith, vice president of student government at Schenectady said.