NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A military equipment dealer was convicted Thursday of scheming with soldiers at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to steal sensitive material for sale to buyers in Russia, China and Mexico.
John Roberts, of Clarksville, Tennessee, was found guilty of conspiracy to steal and sell government property, two counts of violating the Arms Export Control Act and 10 counts of wire fraud. Prosecutors said he faces up to five years in prison for conspiracy and up to 20 years for each count of arms export violations and wire fraud.
More than $1 million in weapons parts, body armor, helmets, gun sights and other equipment was stolen and sold in a vast black market, prosecutors said. Six soldiers and another civilian pleaded guilty. One testified that Roberts was given a tour of the base to see items to be stolen. Eventually, they brought equipment back from Afghanistan and sold it by the truckload.
Roberts, 27, testified that he did not know the soldiers were bringing him stolen equipment. He said the items he bought and sold were commonly found in surplus stores, gun stores and on eBay.
But prosecutors said Roberts knowingly made hundreds of thousands of dollars supplying a vast black market for years, and his own text messages with the soldiers and others involved proved he led the conspiracy.
“This case is about the defendant’s greed and piles of stolen military equipment,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Jaworski told jurors Thursday in closing arguments.
Roberts’ defense attorney did not give closing arguments.
A former business partner, Cory Wilson, testified that he and Roberts would find soldiers selling military items through classified ads or on Facebook, and then ask them for more expensive and harder-to-find items. Wilson pleaded guilty to buying and selling stolen military equipment, wire fraud and violating the Arms Export Control Act.
The soldiers they targeted were often young and broke or needed money for drugs, Wilson said.
Wilson said Roberts set up multiple accounts to sell the equipment on eBay. He said they removed packaging that identified it as government property and used fake descriptions on shipping labels to avoid suspicion.