- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2006

Nine persons, including several U.S. Marines, have been arrested after federal agents dismantled an organization that purportedly stole ballistic vests and other military items bound for U.S. military personnel in Iraq from a California military base.

Some of the vests were later resold on the Internet and illegally exported to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents posing as international arms merchants.

“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,” ICE Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers said. “It is even more troubling that individuals would try to sell these items for profit to people they believed were international arms dealers.”

The nine persons, including Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif., were arrested as part of an ongoing investigation by agents from ICE, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) in Philadelphia and Camp Pendleton.

Several other suspects are thought to be serving with the U.S. military in Iraq.

“This case goes straight to the heart of force protection — the main mission of NCIS,” NCIS spokesman Ed Buice said. “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.”

ICE spokesman Dean Boyd said agents in Philadelphia began an investigation in June 2004 after Erika Jardine of Vista, Calif., was discovered selling controlled U.S. technology to bidders on EBay. He said Jardine sold and illegally exported 18 stolen military ballistic vests to ICE agents who told her they were arms merchants based overseas.

Jardine has since been sentenced to six months in jail, three years of supervised release and fined $6,500.

Mr. Boyd said that information developed as a result of the Jardine case led agents to several Marines at Camp Pendleton who previously had sold vests to Jardine. ICE, NCIS and DCIS investigators worked with the North County Regional Gang Task Force in San Diego to target civilians and military personnel involved in the possession and distribution of stolen government property.

He said investigators also sought to take immediate steps to disrupt and reduce the effect of the thefts on the operational readiness of Camp Pendleton troops preparing for combat deployments in Iraq and other areas of the world.

The investigation also resulted in the recovery or purchase of items worth more than $63,100, including 104 ballistic plates, 14 outer tactical vests, seven Kevlar helmets, three fragmentation vests, 74 M-16 magazines, two gas masks and 100,766 Iraqi dinars ($68), Mr. Boyd said. Additional arrests are expected, he said.

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