7 students face hearings in Merchant Marine Academy probe

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CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (AP) — Seven suspended men's soccer players at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy will face campus disciplinary hearings over allegations of sexual misconduct, coercion and hazing, according to a federal lawyer.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James H. Knapp said the students were sexually abusive toward a freshman player on the team bus last September, and they squirted water or urine and covered several people with food, Newsday reported (http://nwsdy.li/2tplg5Y ) Saturday.

The students' lawyers deny all the allegations. The students sued after being barred from graduating amid a probe by the U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general's office. The agency oversees the academy, which trains students to work in the maritime industry.

A judge let the players participate in June graduation ceremonies but has withheld their diplomas, for now.

Knapp's remarks, at a court hearing in the suit, fleshed out the accusations against the students.

Shaun Hogan, a lawyer for five of the students, told Newsday that the allegations "were long on salacious claims and short on detail." Ron Meister, an attorney for another student, said the students have been unable to get jobs.

"Unfortunately, while the government made the charges public, the (academy's) hearings will be in private, so all of the facts might not come to the attention of the public," Meister told the newspaper.

A spokesman for the Transportation Department inspector general's office declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the men's soccer team has been suspended at the academy, which is in Long Island's Kings Point.

Last year, allegations of sexual abuse and bullying led the academy to put on hold its premier training program, which sends cadets out on working vessels for a year at sea.

An alumni task force disputed the concerns, but a Transportation Department-commissioned report in January cited an "underlying climate contributing to these issues" and called for a comprehensive plan to address sexual assault and harassment.

The academy announced in February that the "Sea Year" program was resuming on vessels with new preventative policies.

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