A U.S. army veteran who pleaded guilty to stealing $2.1 million worth of military gear from the embattled Texas base Fort Hood was sentenced last week to just a year and a half behind bars.
Jessica Elaintrell Smith, 30, had already pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government in April. As part of the plea deal, another count on the indictment was dropped.
Smith, along with co-conspirators Nathan Nichols and Brandon Dominic Brown, are accused of taking 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 receiver/transmitters and one AN-VRC-90 radio sometime overnight between June 16-17, 2021.
Soldiers reported finding locks cut on 17 Conex shipping containers on the base, and an audit showed that a total of 137 items worth about $2.1 million were missing.
“It was a smash-and-grab,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Stacey Dunn said on Tuesday, according to The Killeen Daily Herald. “They took whatever they could get.”
Twelve says after the heist, an agent with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division discovered several of the stolen items matching the same serial number listed for sale on eBay.
U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton on Tuesday sentenced Smith to 18 months in prison, followed by two years of probation. She was also ordered to pay $1.3 million in restitution to the U.S. Army. She was also ordered to pay the U.S. government $100 as part of a “special assessment.”
“I want a better reality,” Smith said before her sentencing, according to The Killeen Daily Herald. “I want to do better in life, and I’ll never be in this situation again.”
Homeland Security was granted a search warrant for Nichol’s home in July 2021. Investigators found $1.23 million in cash and stolen gear, as well as a phone with conversations between Smith and Nichols dating back to March of that year, according to court documents. Brown said he had access to the base.
Brown, also an Army veteran, pleaded not guilty on Nov. 29, 2021. His case is set for jury trial in September.
Nichols, however, pleaded guilty last year and is expected to be sentenced in October.
Smith had pleaded guilty in June 2014 to theft in Bell County while she was stationed at Fort Hood and was sentenced to 10 years of probation, according to Stars and Stripes.
She was deployed to Afghanistan that same month and returned by November of that year. Bell County prosecutors reopened her theft case in 2020 when she was charged with felony family assault, violating her probation terms. She worked as a contractor on the base at the time of the theft of radios, scopes, night vision goggles and other gear.
The June 2021 heist came a year after the disappearance and on-base murder of 20-year-old Army specialist Vanessa Guillen on Fort Hood caused a major shake-up for the sprawling military installation in Killeen, Texas. Investigations unveiled “major flaws” with the command climate following a string of deaths, suicides, and complaints of sexual harassment.