LOUISVILLE, Kentucky - A U.S. soldier based at Fort Knox pleaded guilty Wednesday to taking $57,000 from an Afghan trucking company as part of a scheme to divert loaded fuel trucks from an American military outpost.
Spc. Albert Kelly III, who appeared in U.S. District Court in Louisville, admitted to diverting fuel trucks from Forward Operating Base Salerno near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and logging in more fuel than was actually delivered in exchange for cash.
Kelly, 28, faces up to 10 years in prison at sentencing in May. Kelly, dressed in U.S. Army fatigues and standing with his hands clasped behind his back, gave short answers of "yes, sir" and "no, sir" to questions from U.S. Magistrate Judge James Moyer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bennett told the court that between November 2011 and January 2012 Kelly helped divert 25,000 gallons of fuel. At $4 a gallon, that diversion cost the United States about $100,000, which Kelly will repay in restitution as part of his sentence, Bennett said.
"Are these facts true?" Moyer asked Kelly.
"Yes, your honor," Kelly responded.
Kelly's attorney said he would seek to have the sentencing hearing delayed to avoid his client receiving a dishonorable discharge, if possible. Kelly is due to leave the military in July and a sentencing before then could result in the loss of an honorable discharge, public defender Don Meier said.
"The felony conviction is going to carry lifelong implications, obviously," Meier said.
Kelly's plea is the latest in a series of convictions stemming from a scheme to get truckloads of fuel out of a base in Afghanistan.
Former Sgt. Bilal Kevin Adullah, who served with the 426th Brigade Support Battalion based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, pleaded guilty in August to taking money from an Afghan trucking company to divert loaded fuel trucks from an American military outpost. He is scheduled to be sentenced in March in Paducah.
Four people in Colorado have also pleaded guilty to roles in the scheme to divert fuel from U.S. bases in Afghanistan.
Former U.S. Army Specialist Stephanie Charboneau, 35, of Colorado, was sentenced in February to 87 months in prison for her role in stealing fuel at Forward Operating Base Fenty.
According to court documents, Charboneau conspired with others to steal and sell fuel.
Prosecutors said the conspirators would create fraudulent travel releases that purported to authorize the transport of fuel from FOB Fenty to other military bases, even though no legitimate fuel transportation mission was required.
After the trucks were filled with fuel, the fraudulent releases were used by the drivers of the fuel trucks at FOB Fenty's departure checkpoint to justify the trucks' departures from FOB Fenty.
Charboneau pleaded guilty to bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery for having received payments from a representative of the trucking company in exchange for facilitating the theft of approximately 70 truckloads of fuel. According to court documents, the loss to the United States as a result of the thefts was in excess of $1.2 million.
Jonathan Hightower, a civilian employee of a military contractor who had conspired with Charboneau, pleaded guilty to similar charges. He was sentenced to 24 months in prison at a hearing in October.
After cooperating with the government, he was sentenced to serve 24 months in prison on Oct. 28, 2013.
Christopher Weaver, who also conspired with Charboneau, pleaded guilty in October 2012 to fuel theft charges, and was sentenced to serve 37 months in prison on Oct. 28, 2013.