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Drug Investigation Leads To 20 Arrests
By Jennifer H. Svan
Stars and Stripes
Pacific Edition

April 22, 2004

Twenty sailors assigned to Commander, Naval Forces Marianas have been arrested on drug-related charges since late last year, stemming from months of investigation by military and federal law enforcement agencies, Navy officials on Guam announced this week.

Some are in jail, while others found to be in the so-called drug network were dealt nonjudicial punishment, Navy officials said.

Another awaits sentencing in federal court. All 20 will be discharged from the military, officials said.

The Navy withheld comment on the drug probe until now to avoid compromising the investigation, said Lt. Arwen Consaul, a CNFM spokeswoman.

"We wanted to ensure that exposure and eradication of the drug network was complete," she said.

The sailors — junior personnel, most with less than two years of military service — worked for Submarine Squadron 15, Navy Security Force and Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 5.

The drugs involved were methamphetamine, marijuana, oxycodone, Ecstasy, Klonopin and Xanax, Consaul said. "Law enforcement authorities are continuing to evaluate the source of the drugs," she added.

The illegal drug activity was uncovered during an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Attorney’s Office, launched after several sailors tested positive in a random drug urinalysis last fall, Consaul said.

Since then, seven sailors have been court-martialed on charges including drug use, possession and distribution, and ordered to serve from 30 days to 10 months at an unnamed detention facility in the United States, Consaul said.

They are: Seaman Recruit Michael Didonato (use, possession and distribution), Seaman Recruit Matthew Hoelzle (use), Seaman Recruit Steven Thurman (use and distribution), Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Tolk (use and unrelated charges), Petty Officer 3rd Class Bryan Ledbetter (attempted use and conspiracy to possess), Petty Officer 2nd Class James Fish (possession and distribution) and Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Letson (distribution and possession).

All received a bad conduct discharge and reduction in rank to E-1, except Fish. He was reduced to E-3 and is being separated from the military, which is mandatory for drug offenses, Consaul said. Fish will serve 30 days in jail.

Six of the sailors pleaded guilty in court proceedings that began in December. Letson was found guilty in a court-martial last Friday. He was sentenced to 10 months in jail.

Consaul noted the investigation also resulted in a civilian being charged with drug distribution.

Seaman Shane Powell was indicted by a federal grand jury and pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring to distribute controlled substances to military personnel, according to Guam’s Pacific Daily News. He has a June sentencing date in the U.S. District Court of Guam. He’s currently being detained on the island, Consaul said.

"Location of the offense played a role in jurisdiction of the case," Consaul said. Powell faces a maximum 20 years in prison.

Twelve other sailors received nonjudicial punishment for drug-related offenses, Consaul said, declining to discuss further details.

"The sailors implicated represent a small percentage of sailors serving on Guam," she said.

There are about 13,000 military members and their families on Guam, according to the Navy’s Guam Web site.

The lieutenant would not say whether more arrests would be made. "It would be inappropriate to speculate on how information gained in the investigation might be used in future cases," she said.

Sailors assigned to CNFM are subject to a monthly drug urinalysis, Consaul said. A computer program randomly selects names. The tests have "historically been very accurate in detecting a wide variety of illegal drugs," she said.

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars & Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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