Civilian suspected of stealing Army gear at Lassen depot

04/08/2013 12:00 AM

04/08/2013 7:11 AM

A 36-year-old civilian employee of the Army is suspected of stealing and selling sophisticated military equipment that is routinely shipped to the Sierra Army Depot in Lassen County from Afghanistan and Iraq.

In a criminal complaint filed in Sacramento federal court, Devon Gregory Biggs Jr. is accused of trying one day last week to smuggle equipment valued at nearly $85,000 off the base near the town of Herlong.

For three years, Biggs had been in charge of receiving and categorizing military gear returned from Afghanistan and Iraq to warehouse 301 on the 36,000-acre Army base.

According to an Army investigator's affidavit filed Friday in U.S. District Court along with the criminal complaint, warehouse 301 is "the initial receiving point for thousands of non-standard equipment items being returned from the Southwest (Asia) Theater of Operations (Iraq and Afghanistan)."

The equipment is inventoried and then "processed for destruction, government surplus sales, or recycle of the component materials."

"As a lead employee," according to the affidavit, Biggs "would have had unlimited access to items before they were inventoried and documented."

How long Biggs' alleged thievery had been going on is not indicated in court papers, but it abruptly ended last Wednesday when Biggs was found in possession of technologically advanced thermal imagers, lasers and scope mounts.

The court papers say he had removed M16A1 fully automatic rifles modified with adjustable stocks and converted to accept sound suppressors.

While such weapons would be highly prized by gun enthusiasts, personal ownership in the United States would be illegal.

Biggs made a brief in-custody appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn K. Delaney, who ordered him released under court supervision on a $50,000 unsecured appearance bond co-signed by Biggs and an uncle.

A preliminary examination was set for April 26, but once a federal grand jury indictment replaces the complaint, that examination will be converted to an arraignment, at which he will enter a plea.

Biggs could not be located Sunday.

The only recorded reaction to his plight is a text message found on his smartphone that was hurriedly sent when he saw law enforcement officers approaching him Wednesday afternoon. At the time, he was transferring a backpack full of equipment from one vehicle to another, court documents say.

The message consists of a string of obscenities followed by "THE COPS ARE COMING!"

According to court documents, determining the amount of equipment Biggs allegedly stole will be a challenge.

The equipment is packed by military personnel and shipped to the depot in metal containers. But lists of the contents are "frequently missing or incomplete and there is no accurate method of identifying every item that may have been in the container at the point of debarkation.

"Any items found and concealed by persons opening the containers would not be noted as missing, if identified at all, until the final inventory and shipping review at the end of that contract was received," court papers say. Even then, "items noted as missing would show on the U.S. Army database as still being physically present in Southwest Asia."

Information received Wednesday from two sources prompted law enforcement officers to set up surveillance of Biggs at the close of business that day, according to the affidavit.

The document was signed by John M. Bower, a criminal investigator for the Department of the Army.

The affidavit says surveillance cameras recorded Biggs moving several plastic bags and a black backpack from his personal vehicle to a government vehicle.

"Information from several witnesses identified the black backpack as Biggs', but not one he carried to work every day," Bower wrote. "When he did bring it to his workplace, witnesses and a confidential source all reported it meant he was going to take 'some items of equipment' out of the warehouse.

"A confidential source reported that Biggs was known to put items into the back of the government pickup and depart the area. Once he was certain there was no interest in his actions, he would return and recover the items placed in the truck. This precluded that he would be caught in any random security check."

At the time of Biggs' arrest, the backpack contained nine items of "sophisticated laser and thermal imaging equipment and operating handbooks for two items – laser GHOST Illumination technology and low-light video recording equipment," Bower wrote.

The video recording equipment was not among the items in the backpack. The affidavit says that was believed to be at Biggs' residence.

It alleges Biggs offered a similar item to a "fellow employee three weeks ago to settle a debt."

The affidavit says parts of a fully automatic M16A1 rifle were found concealed in the bed of the government pickup truck.

It says a search of Biggs' personal vehicle recovered four metal night vision helmet mounts.

Call The Bee's Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.

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