Military couple profited from stolen weapons parts, optics and other gear, indictment says

2022-06-11 01:31:57 By : Mr. Rain High

A soldier assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C., used his job to siphon off excess military equipment and sell the items for a profit between 2018 and 2022, according to an indictment unsealed Monday by federal prosecutors.

The indictment against Chief Warrant Officer 3 Christopher Hammond chronicled $1.8 million worth of wire transfers allegedly connected to illegal sales deposited into a checking account separate from the one his military paychecks went into.

The illicit funds were later parceled out to investment accounts at Charles Schwab and Robinhood, the indictment stated. Hammond’s wife, Army Maj. Heather Hammond, was also named in the indictment and accused of helping set up the investment accounts and aiding her husband.

A spokesman for 1st Special Forces Command, which oversees 3rd Group, confirmed the charges.

“Yesterday, CW3 Christopher Hammond self-reported to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina pursuant to his federal indictment on multiple charges,” Maj. Rick Dickson told Army Times in a statement. “As always, all soldiers are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

No other members of 3rd Group “have been arrested or charged at this time in relation to these charges,” Dickson added.

Hammond, who specialized in armament systems maintenance, managed small arms repair in his unit, replaced broken equipment and was able to request supplies through the Defense Department’s sprawling logistics network. He used this position, according to prosecutors, to request government-owned items and then resold them or kept them for personal use.

The list of stolen items included weapons parts and accessories, optics, firearm magazines, guitars, welding equipment, metal working equipment, all-terrain vehicles, tools and toolboxes, according to the indictment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara D. Kocher, the lead prosecutor listed in court filings, did not respond to a request for comment regarding how much of that equipment, especially the weapons-related items, has been recovered. An email to Kocher’s office was forwarded to spokespeople.

“Unfortunately, we are not able to comment outside of the public record, and the information in the indictment you reference is all the data we can provide at this time,” said Justice Department public information officer Don Connelly.

This is not the first time gear has been stolen from supply shops at military bases, but the illegal sales allegedly pocketed by the Hammonds are quite large. It’s also noteworthy that a similar incident involving another 3rd Special Forces Group soldier occurred during the timeframe Hammond is accused of engaging in his own scheme.

Former Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Craig Allen was sentenced in 2020 to two years’ imprisonment and fined $250,000 after being convicted of stealing dozens of night vision goggles in 2018. Allen stole the devices by decreasing the electronic inventory in the unit’s property books and claimed the items were transferred to another unit.

In Allen’s case, the stolen devices were sold to a military surplus store outside Fort Bragg and later auctioned on eBay. But it’s unclear from the indictment how exactly the Hammonds resold the items they allegedly stole.

A civilian, who the indictment only named as M.S., wired large payments to the Hammonds, but the document does not further detail who they are or their relation to Hammonds. M.S. ran into trouble when they tried to get a manufacturer to repair two dozen rifle scopes under a warranty given to the government for the items.

The manufacturer placed the request on hold on July 26, 2021, and asked M.S. to speak with them through a U.S. government email account. Hammond sent an email to the manufacturer that same day claiming, “I had one of my units that was out conducting training give a contractor a bunch of Leupold optics to return for service. [A company employee] is holding them up from service. Can you get this resolved for me as I am out of the country with no access to military email.”

It’s unclear from the document whether or not that suspicious exchange sparked the investigation that ultimately ended in the Hammonds’ indictment. But Mr. Hammond was ultimately charged with theft of U.S. government property, wire fraud and crimes related to money laundering. His wife was charged with spending laundered money and aiding and abetting him.

An attorney for Mr. Hammond is not yet listed on court filings and he could not be reached for comment. Mrs. Hammond’s attorney did not respond to inquires made Wednesday morning.

Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer