A California-based Navy chief is facing court-martial next month over allegations that he conspired with other enlisted leaders to steal military gear.
Chief Aviation Electronics Technician Kirk P. Killian is charged with larceny of military property valued at more than $500 for ordering scopes, binoculars, night vision goggles, chemlites and other equipment and then stealing the items, according to his charge sheet.
Prosecutors allege he acquired the equipment through the Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services from March 2017 to July 2017 at Naval Air Station Lemoore, where he is assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 14.
Sometimes referred to by an older acronym, DRMO, the DLA office oversees disposal of excess military property, everything from air conditioners to vehicles, computers and clothing.
The equipment usually is offered to units within the Defense Department but it also can be transferred to other federal, state or local agencies or sold to the public.
Killian’s civilian defense attorney, Patrick McLain, told Navy Times Wednesday that his client has pleaded not guilty and his trial is scheduled to begin in late March.
McLain said Killian was ordering gear through the DLA office because those procurements don’t count against a unit’s budget.
Some of his orders involved excess night vision goggles that were to be cannibalized and used in a chief’s initiation, McLain said.
“There’s really no indication he was doing anything illegal by ordering stuff off of DRMO,” McLain said.
McLain also questioned why charges were referred against Killian in November, two years after the Naval Criminal Investigative Service probed the allegations against him.
“The government is now pushing for a quick result, but I intend to seek sufficient time to give my client effective assistance of counsel and clear his name,” McLain said.
One of Killian’s alleged co-conspirators, Chief Aviation Electronics Technician Darren M. Heppler, also was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 14 and charged with similar crimes in October.
At a Nov. 14 court-martial trial, Heppler pleaded guilty to stealing military property from March 2017 to July 2017, the same dates listed for Killian’s alleged crimes.
He also pleaded guilty to arranging for “two scopes” to be sold to a Wichita, Kansas, pawn shop, and Navy judge Cmdr. Chad Temple sentenced him to a bad conduct discharge, reduction in grade to E-1 and a year behind bars, according to court records.
But thanks to a plea deal, Heppler received no brig time and will not be reduced to a pay grade below E-5 or separated from the Navy with a punitive discharge, according to his civilian attorney, Corey Bean.
“He is retirement eligible but still on active duty,” Bean said.
It remains unclear whether the convening authority had acted on the chief’s sentence yet, according to Bean.
Provided to Navy Times last week, Heppler’s service record indicates the Kansas native remains a chief.
“ATC Heppler regrets his involvement in this situation,” Bean said in an email. “He took responsibility for his actions and he wants to put this behind him. I believe the Navy recognized ATC Heppler’s minimal role in the charged misconduct which is why we were able to reach a pretrial agreement that greatly reduced confinement exposure and gave ATC Heppler a path to retirement.”
Prosecutors also charged Heppler with wrongfully concealing a long range thermal video unit in July 2017, which he “then knew had been stolen,” according to his charge sheets.
Heppler pleaded not guilty to that and the charge was dismissed, according to court records.
Attorney McLain told Navy Times in an email that the case began after government-contracted movers became suspicious of a household goods shipment for Heppler that was supposed to go from Lemoore to Kansas.
“The movers thought it odd, and contrary to regulation, that Chief Heppler had already boxed up and sealed the goods to be shipped,” McLain said.
“When the movers unpacked and re-packed these items, they appeared to be government property…so law enforcement was notified.”
An investigation found the items were obtained through DRMO, he said.
The probe also found that Killian had taken over Heppler’s position in the squadron, a job that involved logistics, McLain said.
“So, Chief Killian ordered items for his unit from DRMO, since that is the normal practice for persons in a logistics billet with a need for items from DRMO, since they are delivered at no cost for the item, or shipping to the unit,” the attorney said.
The question is whether some of the items — which McLain said “were stored away from the squadron hangar” — were obtained or stored in a way that indicated unlawful use or possession.
Service records show Killian arrived at the squadron in April 2016, about 15 months after Heppler’s arrival.
A Navy chief who retired in 2017 — Christian C. Pelz — is listed as a third co-conspirator on the military charge sheets.
Navy Region Southwest spokesman Brian O’Rourke declined to comment on whether his case was referred to civilian law enforcement or if authorities cleared him.
O’Rourke also wouldn’t say whether all the missing government gear had been recovered.
Pelz’s name didn’t appear on multiple federal and state court dockets and he didn’t respond to several messages from Navy Times.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.