A judge convicted on Wednesday a Navy intelligence official and a struggling auto mechanic in a scheme to bill the government $1.6 million for supposedly untraceable silencers that cost only $10,000 to make.
U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema rejected the defense argument that the contract for hundreds of AK-47 assault rifle silencers had to go outside the usual channels because they were meant for secret missions, possibly involving Navy SEAL Team 6.
"I do not accept the argument that because this might have been covert, that somehow that excuses the participants from playing by the rules," Brinkema said before ruling that Mark S. Landesman, the mechanic, and Lee M. Hall, a civilian Navy intelligence official at the Pentagon, were guilty of federal conspiracy and theft charges.
Both defendants were free on bond pending a sentencing hearing on Jan. 30 at which Hall could face a maximum term of 15 years in prison and Landesman as much as five years.
The government paid $1.6 million for 349 untraceable silencers that were actually worth about $10,000, according to a Washington Post report.
At the trial, prosecutors portrayed Mark Landersman as a poor auto mechanic who lacked a federal firearms license. He allegedly made the silencers in his garage and then went on a spending spree with his profits from the contract, buying expensive cars and investing $100,000 in a microbrewery, the Washington Post reported.
Mark Landesman is the brother of David Landesman, who was Hall's superior as the senior director of intelligence at the Navy's directorate for plans, policy, oversight and integration intelligence. David Landesman has been named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case and has not been charged.
Hall allegedly told Navy officials that the silencers were intended for Navy SEAL Team 6, the elite team in the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. However, representatives for SEAL Team 6 told agents that they knew nothing of the silencers contract, the Washington Post reported.
Prosecutors said Hall's mentions of SEAL Team 6 were nothing more than a cover story for a fraud.
The case was an example of how seemingly outlandish schemes can get past the monitors at the Pentagon in the tense security atmosphere since 9/11, said Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of Defense for personnel in the administration of President Ronald Reagan.
"Of course, it's possible that something like this could happen," Korb said. "You say it's a black op' and it's needed for the war. The whole thing is we need it for the war," said Korb, a military analyst at the Center for American Progress.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com