Nine people, some of them U.S. Marines, have been arrested for stealing bulletproof vests intended for American troops in Iraq and trying to sell them to international arms merchants, Homeland Security officials said on Wednesday.
Authorities said they had busted a group that stole ballistic vests, helmets and protective plates from the Camp Pendleton Marine base in San Diego, California, and sold them on the Internet. Several additional suspects are believed to be serving with the U.S. military in Iraq.
"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," said Julie Myers, assistant secretary for U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with the Department of Homeland Security.
"It is even more troubling that individuals would try to sell these items for profit to people they believed were international arms dealers," Myers said in a statement.
One San Diego resident, Erika Jardine, was sentenced on Wednesday to six months in prison by a federal court in Philadelphia for selling U.S. property.
ICE agents began investigating Jardine in June 2004 after she was discovered selling 18 stolen ballistic vests on eBay to agents posing as overseas arms dealers.
Their investigation led them to several U.S. Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton who had sold equipment to Jardine. Eight people, some of them Marines and several civilians, have since been arrested on charges of stealing government property and other arrests are expected.
ICE agents said they had recovered or purchased items worth more than $63,000 including tactical vests, protective insets, helmets, gas masks, M-16 assault rifle magazines and more than 100,000 Iraqi dinars.