Smash and grab at Fort Hood: Veteran pleads guilty in conspiracy to steal $2.2 million in night vision, radio equipment

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Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 1:39 PM CDT
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KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) - An Army Veteran and former military contractor has pleaded guilty in a conspiracy to steal nearly $2.2 million worth of Army night vision and radio equipment later listed for sale on eBay.

Brandon Brown was arrested September 2021 and accused helping steal 68 PAs-13 Scopes, 47 RT 1523 Radios, nine AN-PSC 5 Radios, four PVS-14 Scopes, three night vision devices, three AN/PRC 117 Radios, two Receivers/Transmitters and one AN-VRC-90 Radio from Fort Hood on the evenings of June 16-17 in 2021.

Brown worked as a contractor on post at Fort Hood and had access to where the items were kept, court documents state. The Army Times reported Brown worked with Jessica Elaintrell Smith to steal the equipment.

Court documents obtained by KWTX reveal Smith used her disabled veteran ID to help Brown gain access to Fort Hood. She previously worked on post as a shipping and receiving clerk.

A review of surveillance footage revealed Brown and Smith entering Fort Hood on June 16, 2021, the night of the theft.

According to court documents, federal authorities found the items listed for resale on eBay from an account originating in a Corpus Christi residence. A search warrant was obtained and investigators recovered 63 stolen items worth $1.2 million from the residence. The Army Times identified Nathan Nichols as the owner of the residence in Corpus Christi where the stolen items were found.

Homeland Security Investigators then obtained cell phone records of communication with potential buyers and 12 more items were eventually recovered. Email messages reportedly detailed the negotiations between Smith and Nichols, the documents state, and cell phone GPS data reveals Smith was in the area of Nichols’ residence in Corpus Christi soon after the theft of the equipment from Fort Hood.

Investigators eventually interviewed Brown, who voluntarily admitted to being involved in the theft and being in possession of the stolen items. Brown also admitted to being in possession of bolt cutters and other materials used to break into the area where the equipment was stored.

Smith, 30, pleaded guilty in the scheme, was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by two years of post-release supervision, and ordered to pay nearly $1.3 million in restitution to the federal government, the Army Times reported.

Nichols pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal more than $2.1 million in sensitive military equipment, according to a news release form Homeland Security Investigations.

In agreeing to the plea, Nichols admitted to prosecutors to being in contact with Smith and Brown after the theft of the military equipment and requested pictures of the property before agreeing to buy it for resale. Once he obtained the items, Nichols admitted to listing the items for sale on eBay, HSI said.

Nichols, who also pleaded guilty to running an illegal gambling operations, agreed to forfeit nearly $2.2 million in proceeds from his illegal activity. He is scheduled to be sentenced in October 2022 and could face up to five years in prison.

Brown is scheduled to be sentenced on December 7, 2022.

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