Fusion Investigates: Are police profiting from 'missing' military equipment?

PHOTO: Police indicted missing weapons

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A recent grand jury indictment against a former police chief from a small town in central Texas suggests that not all of the Pentagon's missing weapons are simply misplaced somewhere in a forgotten gun locker.

A Fusion investigation published earlier this week revealed that 184 state and local police departments have been suspended from the Pentagon's "1033" military surplus transfer program for reporting missing weapons or failing to comply with other guidelines. The investigation uncovered a pattern of missing equipment, including military-issue M14 and M16 assault rifles, .45-caliber pistols, shotguns and even Humvees.

Now, two federal indictments obtained by Fusion allege that some of that missing equipment — including an M14 assault rifle — was resold or transferred to unauthorized third parties by police officials.

William Jason Kelcy, who served as Chief of Texas' Rising Star Police Department from 2009-2013, was indicted earlier this year on allegations that he "sold, traded, pawned" and transferred several "high value military surplus items," including an M14 assault rifle.

"[D]uring the time he served as police chief, Kelcy, by making false and fraudulent representations about the intended use and/or recipient(s) of equipment, sought and obtained more than $4 million worth of property and equipment from the 1033 Program," reads a Department of Justice statement following the indictment filed in Texas last February. Count two of the indictment alleges that "in late June 2012, Kelcy transferred and attempted to transfer a Thompson Ramo Wooldridge M14 machine gun."

The indictment states that Kelcy, who died of metastatic melanoma last May before the case went to trial, "gave, sold, bartered, or otherwise disposed of the equipment to other law enforcement agencies, officers, and private citizens with no law enforcement responsibilities."

Kelcy Indictment

The case was dismissed following Kelcy's death.

The Rising Star Police Department has since distanced itself from the scandal.

"None of the personnel that was working here at that time is working here any more," police Lt. Jackson Weger told Fusion by phone.

Kelcy wasn't the only police officer accused of abusing the Pentagon's program.

In Columbus, Ohio, officer Steven E. Dean was sentenced to two and a half years in jail earlier this month after a similar federal investigation found him guilty of stealing and selling some $250,000 worth of federally owned property that was given to his department through the 1033 program.

Dean diverted more than $130,000 worth of heavy equipment, construction equipment, and vehicles, plus an additional $7,000 worth of restaurant equipment, and nearly $100,000 worth of materials that were sold for scrap, according to the statement of facts issued by the prosecution. Dean pleaded guilty to all charges.

Kelcy Indictment

The case, which resulted in the Columbus Police Department's suspension from the Pentagon program, does not appear to have involved the illegal transfer of any weapons. The department has since been readmitted into the 1033 program.

At times, the practice of profiting from the Pentagon program has been officially sanctioned and backed by an entire police department. A 2012 investigation by the Arizona Republic found that the Pinal Sheriff's Office was routinely trying to balance its budget by selling federal property (vehicles, computers, defibrillators) obtained for free through the 1033 program.

The department was given a "Million Dollar Customer" award by the Pentagon a few weeks before the investigation was published, according to a USA Today report.

But after the report was published, the Pinal Sheriff's Office was suspended from the program and the Pentagon ordered them to retrieve the hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment it had sold or leased to third parties. The department's suspension has since been lifted. Fusion reached out to the Pinal Sheriff's Office for comment, but did not receive a response by press time.

Pentagon spokeswoman Michelle McCaskill says the federal government maintains tight controls on all equipment transfers, and insists the program "does not push the excess equipment on any agency."

But Lt. Mike Hopson of the Ennis Police Department in Texas tells a different story. He says he felt like the Pentagon was foisting unwanted equipment on his police department.

"Some of our people went down to pick up a station wagon and another little vehicle, and they were trying to give us helicopters and aircraft carriers and stuff like that," Hopson said.

The Ennis Police Department was suspended from the program in 2013 for losing an armored vehicle that they maintain they never got in the first place. Curiously, that suspension was lifted today, according to police Captain David Anthony.

In a brief phone conversation with Fusion, Anthony said the suspension ended today, but wouldn't say why. The police captain said he is not allowed to talk about the matter in any more detail, per orders of state coordinator Sklor Hearn, who has also refused to speak to Fusion.

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