A Coast Guard petty officer at Training Center Cape May has been charged with possession of an assault weapon and possession of large-capacity magazines he allegedly stole from the base.
Petty Officer 1st Class Preston Blair, 32, of Middle Township, was arrested after a court-authorized search March 1 of his home in the Green Creek section of the township, his motor vehicle and a storage unit in nearby Lower Township.
Authorities said three weapons were seized, including two assault rifles along with 14 large-capacity magazines. One of the magazines had dual drums and was capable of holding 100 rounds of ammunition.
Blair, a decorated war veteran who served in Iraq and performed earlier this year at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, was released from the Cape May County Correctional Center after posting $50,000 bail, according to his attorney Joseph Levin.
Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor said Blair was charged with possession of an assault weapon, which could bring a prison term of up to 10 years, and possession of large-capacity magazines, which could bring imprisonment not to exceed 18 months.
Taylor said county authorities and the Lower Township and Middle Township police departments worked with the Coast Guard Investigative Service on the case.
Officials said the investigation began when the Coast Guard Investigative Service found evidence that Blair stole a number of large-capacity ammunition magazines from a ceremonial weapons locker at TRACEN.
Chief Warrant Officer Donnie Brzuska said the magazines were empty but fully functional. The rifles the Coast Guard uses in ceremonial events are not real, but the magazines, to look genuine and have the right weight and feel, are real.
"These clips were functional but we kept them with non-functional weapons," Brzuska said.
Blair has 11 years of service with the Coast Guard and has served as a company commander training recruits in Cape May since Jan. 1, 2010. One of his jobs is to take boot camp recruits and in eight weeks turn them into a polished Recruit Drill Team that can perform at ceremonies, twirling and throwing rifles to each other. One of his recruits was assigned to the Presidential Honor Guard. He also helps train the Coast Guard Color Guard.
The case will follow both civilian and military channels.
"The Coast Guard is going to work closely with the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office to determine the final dispensation of this case in regards to civilian or military charges. It's an ongoing investigation," Brzuska said.