Iowa authorities have decided not to prosecute a senior U.S. Strategic Command officer who is being investigated on suspicion of passing counterfeit poker chips at a Council Bluffs casino — leaving his fate in the hands of military authorities.
Vice Adm. Timothy Giardina, StratCom's deputy commander, remains under investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in connection with the June incident. He was suspended in early September from all duties relating to classified materials.
The state investigation, however, is “essentially completed,” said David Dales, special agent in charge with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
“At this point we're not going to press state charges,” Dales said.
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.
State investigators soon realized that Giardina served in the military at Offutt Air Force Base. In July, Dales said, he informed military authorities at Offutt, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service opened its own investigation.
The Iowa investigation was wrapped up in late August, Wilber said, and the findings were turned over to the U.S. Defense Department. Officially, the state case is being kept open, pending new developments.
Dales declined to say whether anyone besides Giardina is suspected of being involved in the case.
Although counterfeiting poker chips is a felony, Wilber said his office decided against charging Giardina because it was thought unlikely that he would face serious punishment.
“Considering Adm. Giardina's lack of criminal history as well as his career in the military, we concluded there wasn't any chance of him receiving anything other than deferred judgment,” Wilber said. “We chose to let (the Defense Department) handle it.”
Dales would not say how the chips allegedly were counterfeited, or how they were spotted.
Karl Bennison, chief of enforcement for the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, said casinos have their own unique chips and typically make them difficult to reproduce.
“They do build in protections, just like with currency,” he said. “It's very controlled in Nevada. We have a record of every approved chip out there.”
Counterfeiting is relatively uncommon. He said it typically involves attempting to pass expired chips, coloring lower-denomination chips to make higher value ones or, least commonly, manufacturing fake chips.
“It takes considerable effort to actually make counterfeit chips from scratch,” Bennison said.
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 is scheduled to end this year.
As deputy commander, he is the second-highest-ranking official overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, including land-based missiles, Navy nuclear submarines and strategic bombers.
Gen. C. Robert Kehler, StratCom's commander, has asked the Pentagon to reassign Giardina to another command.
World-Herald staff writer Andrew J. Nelson contributed to this report.