Army Veteran Who Stole Millions Worth of Equipment from Fort Hood Gets Jail Time

The sun rises at the Vanessa Guillén gate before the arrival of a congressional delegation at Fort Hood, Texas.
The sun rises at the Vanessa Guillén gate before the arrival of a congressional delegation at Fort Hood, Texas, May 5, 2021. (Sgt. Evan Ruchotzke/U.S. Army photo)

Last week, an Army veteran was sentenced to 18 months in jail and ordered to pay almost $1.3 million in restitution for the 2021 theft of millions of dollars worth of sensitive military equipment, according to federal court documents.

Jessica Elaintrell Smith, a former Army supply specialist, and her alleged co-conspirators, Nathan Nichols and Brandon Dominic Brown, were accused of stealing 68 thermal sights, 60 radios, seven night vision devices and two receiver/transmitters after the equipment was discovered missing from a Fort Hood, Texas, armory in June of last year.

Smith and Brown were accused of stealing the equipment for Nichols to sell online, according to court documents.

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After a formal inventory, the Army's Criminal Investigation Division concluded that the missing equipment was worth more than $2.1 million, according to Smith's criminal complaint. A CID agent discovered that some of the equipment was listed for sale on eBay and connected the account to Nichols, according to a separate indictment. 

Nichols and Smith communicated about selling the equipment after the theft, and agents uncovered PayPal transactions between the two, according to court documents. 

The complaint alleged that Smith used her veteran ID to access Fort Hood the evening of June 16, the night on which the theft occurred. Brown, who is also a veteran and was working as a contractor at Hood at the time, also entered the base that evening dressed in all black, according to court documents. 

A few weeks later, authorities conducted a search warrant at Nichols' residence in Corpus Christi, Texas, and discovered more than $1.2 million in U.S. currency and over 60 pieces of stolen military equipment.

Last year's affidavit said that only 12 items were recovered from internet buyers, but it is unclear how much equipment -- if any -- has been recovered from buyers since then.

Smith and Nichols had been conspiring since at least March 2021. Smith pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government in April 2022. Her sentencing, issued by U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton last Tuesday, also includes two years' probation, mental health treatment and $100 for a "special assessment;" the docket does not explain what that assessment entails.

Nichols' sentencing is set for October, according to court dockets. He faced a conspiracy to defraud the United States charge and pleaded guilty. It does not appear that Brown has gone to trial, but he is also facing conspiracy to defraud charges, to which he pleaded not guilty in November, according to court records.

At Smith's sentencing, her attorney, Lila Michelle Garza, told the judge "she got financially desperate because she had two children that she was trying to provide for," according to the Killeen Daily Herald. 

"She knows she made a mess of things and put her family in even worse straits," Garza continued. "She's trying to make up for the mistakes she made by assisting the government."

Smith also reportedly expressed remorse.

She served in the Army as an enlisted supply specialist from August 2010 to July 2016, according to military records. She deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 and held the rank of specialist upon her discharge.

During her service, Smith was arrested for her alleged involvement in a 2013 robbery of a Game Exchange in Texas, according to the Killeen Police Department. She was charged with aggravated robbery. 

She also worked as a shipping and receiving clerk for a contractor on Fort Hood, leaving the position just two weeks prior to the theft.

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

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