Ex-Green Beret pleads guilty to stealing government funds during deployment

Green Berets assigned to 3rd Special Group (Airborne) prepare an exfiltration on August 15, 2019, near Hurlburt Field, FL (Army photo / Spc. Peter Seidler)

A fifth soldier in a case that dates to 2009 has pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and receiving stolen government property, officials said Monday.

William Todd Chamberlain, 46, of Raleigh, faces a combined maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release; a $500,000 fine; mandatory restitution; and forfeiture of $40,000, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

Officials said Chamberlain, a former 3rd Special Forces Group soldier at Fort Bragg, was initially charged in an indictment filed June 25, 2014. Officials said Chamberlain filed numerous pretrial motions that included claims that he needed access to classified information to defend himself. Senior U.S. District Court Judge Malcolm J. Howard ruled against the claim, concluding the classified information would not be helpful to his defense, officials said.

Four other soldiers — Cleo Autry, Jeffrey Cook, Deric Harper and Barry Walls — pleaded guilty in 2014 to charges of stealing about $200,000 between July 2009 and January 2010 while deployed together in Afghanistan.

"Our office stands committed to routing out public corruption," U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon Jr. said. "Chamberlain and his teammates abused the unique trust bestowed upon them by the military as members of the Special Forces."

While deployed, the soldiers had access to operation funds used for mission-critical items; commander's emergency response funds used for humanitarian projects such as roads, schools and medical clinics; and funds to support counterterrorism operations.

Court records say Chamberlain, a sergeant first class at the time, was the senior noncommissioned officer in the group. Chamberlain stole $6,100 worth of federal funds between Oct. 9, 2009, and Nov. 11, 2009, records say.

"Three of his teammates would have testified that they handed him large sums of U.S. currency and saw him at the post office purchasing postal money orders," officials said.

Officials said the investigation indicated all five soldiers converted stolen money into postal money orders purchased at military post offices in Afghanistan. They also sent cash to family members by mail or brought cash back to the United States at the end of their deployment, officials said.

Federal law enforcement officers started interviewing the soldiers on June 21, 2012. The soldiers told authorities they did not know about the money. Walls and Harper said they won the money through gambling, court records say.

Officials said the multiyear investigation was conducted by the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Army's Major Procurement Fraud Unit.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan B. Menzer and Matthew J. McKenzie of the Department of Justice National Security Division represented the government.

Robert E. Craig Jr., special-agent-in-charge of the Mid-Atlantic Field Office for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, said he hopes the case demonstrates that law enforcement is committed to "protecting valuable Department of Defense resources" and ensuring combat readiness.

John F. Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said the message of the case is that law enforcement partners "will pursue justice — no matter how long it takes."

"Theft of U.S. government funds in a war zone is a serious crime that weakens our national objectives in Afghanistan," Sopko said.

©2020 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) - Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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