Marine Jailed, Owes Corps More Than Half a Million Dollars

Toys for Tots is a program managed by the Marine Corps Reserve that collects and distributes toys to needy children for Christmas. (U.S. Marine Corps/Nathan Hanks)
Toys for Tots is a program managed by the Marine Corps Reserve that collects and distributes toys to needy children for Christmas. (U.S. Marine Corps/Nathan Hanks)

A former staff sergeant who used his position as a Toys for Tots program coordinator to make payments to himself and who defrauded the Marine Corps to the tune of more than half a million dollars will serve 33 months in prison, the Department of Justice announced this month.

Christopher Aragon, 32, of Mobile, Alabama, will also have to pay restitution of $534,044.08 to the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, and another $20,044.70 to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, according to a Sept. 21 DOJ release. After his prison sentence, Aragon must undergo three years of supervised release, receive court-ordered mental health treatment, and undergo credit restrictions, according to the release. He'll also lose a residence "traceable to criminal proceeds," officials said.

Aragon, who served as a supply chief for 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company, a Marine Corps Reserve unit in Mobile, was also in charge of coordinating the unit's Toys for Tots program. It's not clear from releases when Aragon was discharged from the Marine Corps.

Toys for Tots is a program managed by the Marine Corps Reserve that collects and distributes toys to needy children for Christmas.

Between December 2013 and December 2014, according to the release, Aragon and his wife, Teneshia Aragon, conspired to defraud the program by using an issued credit card to make unauthorized payments to himself. He also forged documents, including invoices, and submitted them to the Toys for Tots foundation. Ultimately, he bilked the charity program for about $23,044.70, officials said. The couple has paid back only $3,000 to date.

For an overlapping period, between October 2014 and August 2016, Aragon also conspired to defraud the Marine Corps as a whole out of a much larger sum of money. According to the Department of Justice, he teamed up with his wife and Dana Davis, the owner of a Mobile restaurant called the Runway Café, to commit credit card fraud. Using his unit-issued travel card, he used his position as authorizing official to approve fake charges from the cafe.

But, according to the release, his greed ended up getting him caught.

"[Aragon] prepared false documents, such as invoices and personnel rosters, and submitted them to the Marine Corps, which later conducted an audit and noticed excessive discrepancies in food expenditures," it states. "For example, the Marine Corps noticed that, one, many Runway Café invoices did not match official 3d Force Recon activities and, therefore, did not support a legitimate need for food services [and, two], Runway Café's invoices were for more meals than could be consumed by the number of Marines assigned to 3d Force Recon."

Aragon's total haul from the Marine Corps added up to $554,044.08, of which Runway Cafe has refunded only $20,000.

Investigators found personnel rosters submitted for reimbursement contained made-up names of 3rd Force Recon Marines, and unauthorized service fees were tacked on to invoices.

An investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Defense Criminal Investigative Service ultimately resulted in Aragon's prosecution.

He was charged in March, along with his wife, with two counts of conspiracy for seeking to defraud the Marine Corps and Toys for Tots. The couple and Davis pleaded guilty in May.

Davis and Teneshia Aragon have already received sentences. According to a release, Davis received six months in prison in August and was ordered to make full restitution. Teneshia Aragon was sentenced earlier this month to five years of probation, the first six months of which will be spent on house arrest. She was also ordered to make full restitution.

Aragon received the steepest sentence by far for his role in the wrongdoing.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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