Nine Charged With Stealing Protective Gear for Resale
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2006 The arrests of several Marines charged with stealing and reselling ballistic vests and other military items destined for U.S. troops in Iraq were isolated incidents in a system that works to ensure full accountability of all controlled equipment, a Marine Corps spokesman told American Forces Press Service today.
Abuses of this system won't be tolerated and the violators will be held fully accountable, Maj. Doug Powell, a Headquarters Marine Corps spokesman, said.
The Department of Homeland Security announced yesterday that nine people, including several Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., were arrested following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.
Several additional suspects in the investigation are believed to be serving in Iraq, according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement release. Some of the ballistics vests, stolen from Camp Pendleton, were later resold on the Internet and illegally exported to customs agents posing as international arms merchants, the release said.
Yesterday's announcement followed the sentencing of Erika Jardine, a Vista, Calif., resident, to six months in jail followed by three years of supervised release, a community service obligation and a $6,500 fine. Officials said she sold and illegally exported 18 stolen military ballistic vests to undercover customs agents.
Information developed through the Jardine case led agents to several Marines at Camp Pendleton who allegedly sold her small-arms protective inserts, or SAPI plates, and outer tactical vests, officials reported. ICE and DoD investigators began working with the North County Regional Gang Task Force in San Diego to target civilians and military members who possessed or were distributing stolen government property, they said.
The Camp Pendleton investigation, lead by NCIS, focused on identifying the amount and type of U.S. military gear being stolen. The goal was to disrupt the operations as quickly as possible to reduce the thefts' impact on the operational readiness of Marines preparing for overseas deployments, officials said.
Ultimately, the investigation identified 12 Marine suspects as well as several civilians, officials said. More arrests are expected as the investigation continues, officials said.
The Marines involved will be held fully accountable for the actions, Powell said. "This type of activity will not be tolerated," he said.
The theft or resale of military-issued items is not only a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but also a breach of the Marine Corps ethos, officials said.
The investigation also resulted in the recovery or purchase of more than $63,000 in equipment. It included 104 SAPI plates, worth $500 each; 14 outer tactical vests, worth $577 each; seven Kevlar helmets; three fragmentation vests; 74 M16 magazines; two gas masks; and more than 100,000 Iraqi dinars, officials reported.
The Marine Corps works to ensure accountability of military equipment through a system that includes bar coding of equipment, quarterly inventories and periodic field audits by the inspectors general, Powell said.
While acknowledging the gravity of the case, Powell said the thefts had no impact on Marine Corps readiness. The thefts identified represent "a fraction of 1 percent" of all protective equipment the Marine Corps has fielded, he noted. So far, the Marine Corps has sent more than 240,000 SAPI plates and more than 190,000 outer tactical vests to the field, he said.
But Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary Julie Myers said the case flies in the face of the effort to ensure deployed U.S. troops have all the protections they need while serving overseas. "At a time when our troops in Iraq need all the body armor they can get, it is extremely troubling to see bulletproof vests destined for those troops being stolen from our military bases at home for resale to the public," she said. "It is even more troubling that individuals would try to sell these items for profit to people they believed were international arms dealers."
Ed Bruice, spokesman for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said the case "goes straight to the heart of force protection."
"We will continue to partner with ICE and other agencies around the world to safeguard our troops, especially those on the front lines who are depending on gear such as these vests to save their lives," he said.