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Three soldiers discharged for joining fraud ring; more could follow

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on June 17, 2011 at 11:22 am |
June 17, 2011 11:22 am

Three Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers who participated in a fraud ring that swindled $3.5 million from an Ohio bank have been discharged from the Army.

They’re among 78 soldiers who the Army believes benefited in some way from a scheme to bilk entities including the Army and Air Force Exchange Service and Tacoma Public Utilities.

Most of the money went to civilians. About $600,000 can be traced to service members, Army spokesman Chris Ophardt said.

So far, the Army has disciplined 23 soldiers for relatively minor fraud without pressing charges against them in courts-martial.

Pierce County prosecutors last month charged Jannie Lee, 28, with leading the fraud ring. She allegedly used an ill-gotten bank account to pay credit card balances and other bills for as many 1,800 people who participated in the scheme.

The Seattle Times reported last month that a specialist in the 14th Engineer Battalion recruited participants at Lewis-McChord by promising to pay down debt in exchange for a lesser amount of cash or items that could be bought at the post exchange.

The Army this week gave The News Tribune charge sheets for 35 soldiers who could be prosecuted in courts martial. Most of the accused soldiers are in the engineer battalion or in its sister units within the 555th Engineer Brigade.

Accused soldiers face varying charges. Most of them are charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to commit larceny in amounts greater than $500. That offense is punishable by up to five years in prison and a bad-conduct discharge.

One specialist also faces an assault charge for allegedly drawing a knife on a first sergeant.

Ophardt said seven soldiers have been punished at summary courts-martial, a less serious venue than a general court-martial.

Two of the three soldiers who’ve already been discharged agreed to that punishment instead of facing courts martial.

The third discharged soldier pled guilty on May 5 to larceny, conspiracy to commit larceny and attempted larceny. It’s estimated that he stole $17,000. In addition to his bad-conduct discharge, he was sentenced to seven months in confinement.

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