Six soldiers and two civilians were indicted this week on charges they conspired to steal and sell Army equipment, from printer ink to machine gun parts and the sight for a grenade launcher, on eBay.
Soldiers Michael Barlow, 29; Jonathan Wolford, 28; Kyle Heade, 29; Alexander Hollibaugh, 25; Dustin Nelson, 22; and Aaron Warner, 24, all stationed at Fort Campbell, were named in the indictment unsealed on Thursday. Also charged were civilians John Roberts, 26, and Cory Wilson, 42, both of Clarksville.
U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee David Rivera announced the charges Thursday during a news conference at the federal courthouse in downtown Nashville.
According to the indictment, the eight charged "sold certain U.S. Army equipment that is never offered for sale by the U.S. Department of Defense as surplus" in 2013.
The men sold "firearm components, advanced communications headsets and laser or optical sights," the indictment reads. The equipment was classified by the Defense Department as "DEMIL D," meaning that it must be destroyed by the military and cannot be sold elsewhere.
The indictment lists the following equipment that was stolen and sold between 2013 and 2016:
- A sight for an M203 grenade launcher
- Machine gun parts including magazine adapters, barrel assemblies and at least 30 barrels, heat shields
- Body armor
- Sniper telescope with tripod and rifle mounts
- Combat and flight helmets
"These are extraordinarily and inherently dangerous in the wrong hands and outside of the military or police tactical use," Rivera said Thursday.
Rivera then pointed to a photo of a trigger mechanism that is capable of converting a single-shot weapon to a fully-automatic weapon and the body armor plates that would stop most police and rifle rounds up to a 7.62 mm round.
"You can imagine what damage can be done when a single trigger pull can discharge multiple rounds," he said.
The value of the equipment stolen and sold by the group totaled more than $1 million, according to the indictment. The equipment was stored in warehouses and storage units around Clarksville, and was listed for sale online by Wilson and Roberts, civilians who live in Clarksville, the indictment says.
In May 2013, Roberts exchanged messages with someone listed in his phone as an E5, a sergeant, to arrange buying helmets and tactical vests, the indictment reads.
"Where i just got that sh-- was craaaaazy risky," the sergeant texted.
"I can only imagine," Roberts replied, according to the indictment. "I wondered about that. I imagine its (sic) pretty locked up."
The items were then sold on eBay to buyers located in the U.S., Russia, China, Hong Kong, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Lithuania, Moldova, Malaysia, Romania and Mexico, the indictment reads.
Even eBay caught on, according to the indictment, and went after the sellers for wrongly listing items for sale and trying to sell components of assault weapons.
Rivera said authorities have done everything to seize every item they could so far, but could not say what has not been retrieved.
Robert Hammer, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations, said the investigation included looking at more than 1,600 online listings as well as working with the U.S. Postal Service and investigating imports and exports.
"At a time when tensions are high between foreign nations such as China and Russia, it is disheartening as an American to see our own military members shipping stolen equipment and technology to those countries, as well as others such as Hong Kong and Ukraine," Hammer said.
Five of those indicted were in custody Thursday, and authorities are working on arresting the other three.
Roberts was charged with conspiracy, two counts of violating the Arms Export Control Act and 10 counts of wire fraud.
Wilson, aka Jason C. Wilson, was charged with conspiracy, money laundering, violating the Arms Export Control Act and seven counts of wire fraud.
Barlow, U.S. Army sergeant, was charged with conspiracy, three counts of theft, receipt and unauthorized sale of government property.
Wolford, Heade, Hollibaugh, Nelson and Warner, all U.S. Army specialists, were charged with conspiracy.
Rivera said each defendant faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charges. Roberts and Wilson face up to 20 years for each count of wire fraud and violating the arms export control act, and Wilson faces an additional 20 years on the money laundering charge.
Barlow faces up to 10 years on each charge, Rivera said.
"The actions of the soldiers charged today should in no way stain the honor of the brave men and women who proudly serve in our country's armed forces and selflessly give everything to protect America's freedom," Rivera said. "To the contrary, we never want to allow the self-serving actions to cast a shadow on the military heroes who everyday put themselves in harm's way to protect this great nation."
The case was investigated by the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, Homeland Security Investigations and the IRS criminal investigations division.
Hammer said they are seeking tips from the public if suspicious items are seen online. Call 1-866-DHS-2ICE.
Reach Ray Howze at 615-664-2251 or on Twitter @rayhowze1. Reach Stacey Barchenger at 615-726-8968 or on Twitter @sbarchenger.