Military weapons stolen; 6 Marines arrested
In this story:
October 16, 1997
Web posted at: 7:17 p.m. EDT (2317 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Six Marines and seven civilians were
arrested Thursday in connection with what Pentagon and law enforcement
authorities called a scheme to sell stolen military weapons.
The arrested Marines include a captain and five enlisted
personnel. The case involves the theft of
explosives and weapons from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, officials
A L S O :
Detailed map of the area
"On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 10," said one official,
referring to the weapons that were seized.
However, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said he understood that
"there are primarily small weapons at stake" in the case.
"I am not aware that there has been a huge problem" with
military arms thefts, Bacon said.
Officials: 'Lethal' explosives involved
The stockpile of stolen weapons includes mortars, grenades,
.50-caliber machine guns, land mines and C-4 plastic
explosives, federal officials told CNN.
A Treasury Department spokesman described the plastic
explosives involved as "very lethal weapons" and said they
were the weapons of choice of terrorists.
The investigation, dubbed "Operation Longfuse," centered on
"the theft and subsequent distribution of U.S. government
property, particularly military ordnance, throughout the
southeastern United States," said William Perry, special
agent in charge of the FBI's office in Charlotte.
Two of the seven civilians arrested in the case were
identified by the FBI as weapons dealers, including a manager
at the Coach and Sons Military Surplus store in
Raeford, North Carolina, and the manager of Classic Arms in
Mount Pleasant, North Carolina.
The Coach manager, Alton Laverne Sharpe Jr., 34, was accused
of illegally selling the C-4 explosives and "knowing or
having reasonable cause to believe that such material was
stolen," the FBI said.
Weapons were reportedly sold out of the backs of cars at
local gun shows in North Carolina.
Captain arrested in Massachusetts
The Marine captain was arrested at the Marine Reserve Center
in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he worked. The man,
identified by Marine officials as Capt. Thomas Crawford had recently been transferred from
He was being returned to North Carolina.
Crawford's arrest came after federal agents seized what
appeared to be crates of ammunition at his home in Millis, Massachusetts, a
small town about 30 miles southwest of Boston.
In Millis, authorities cordoned off the area around
Crawford's white frame home and seized at least 10 boxes and
crates with military markings "similar to what munitions are
usually stored in," said Naval investigator Jeff Morrow.
Camp Lejeune officials identified
the other five as Staff Sgt. Timothy Witham of Marine
Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, North Carolina; and Master
Gunnery Sgt. Alfred Gerich, Gunnery Sgt. James Sanders, Sgt.
Ronald Moerbe, and Sgt. Darius Hill, all of Camp Lejeune.
The specific charges they
face were not immediately known. Officials said the charges
involved the illegal manufacture and distribution of firearms
Joint undercover sting operation
The arrests stemmed from a joint undercover sting operation
involving the FBI, the Treasury Department's Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Naval Criminal
The investigation began after a non-commissioned officer
noticed weapons were missing and reported the problem to his
superiors. The arrests were made after suspects attempted to
sell material to undercover agents.
The investigation also targeted the illegal manufacture and
sale of automatic weapons and explosives.
Pentagon orders security review
In the wake of the arrests, Defense Secretary William Cohen
ordered a 30-day review of security and accountability procedures
for small arms and ammunition.
"It is imperative that we be confident that military arms and
munitions are tightly controlled and safeguarded," Cohen said
in a statement.
Earlier Thursday, Cohen told reporters, "Obviously, no
security system is 100 percent foolproof."
Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and Reuters contributed to this report.