GULFPORT, Miss. -- The last of four men has been sentenced for the theft of military-grade munitions from a Camp Shelby firing range, a crime discovered after an explosion in Gulfport seriously injured a man who was cutting up the weapons to sell for scrap.
Jack Bernell Wilson, 45, of Gulfport, was sentenced Thursday to 6½ years in prison followed by three years of post-release supervision. U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. also ordered him to forfeit two firearms he had in a camper on a relative's property on Saucier Lane, where the explosion occurred Jan. 19.
Wilson, a felon, was in possession of an SKS rile registered to his sister and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun owned by someone else. He also was charged in a related indictment in which one of his brothers and two friends accepted plea agreements.
Wilson pleaded guilty in August to being a felon in possession of firearms. Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette Williams filed a motion Friday to dismiss his remaining charges.
The case against the four men involved the theft of armor-piercing rounds from a fenced-in firing range. The men made several trips, and sold their last cut-up batch of metal to a Mobile scrap yard for $3,000.
Authorities unraveled the scheme after Wilson's brother, 33-year-old Dale Ray Johnson, was left crippled and partially blind from the explosion. He was using an acetylene torch to cut up a round when the projectile blew up.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives identified the projectiles as 84-mm AT4s left at a firing range since the 1920s. The range is considered so dangerous that targets are dropped by helicopter.
Wilson's other brother, 48-year-old Jimmy Lee Wilson of Gulfport, admitted he had cut a hole in a barbed-wire fence so the men could drive a pickup truck onto the firing range.
After the explosion, ATF identified 51 complete or partial rounds at the Saucier Lane property, where three children were living in a home on the grounds. The neighborhood, near a school and churches, was evacuated and an Army unit from Fort Stewart, Ga., was called in to detonate the devices.
Jimmy Wilson is serving an eight-year prison term. He admitted he'd been scavenging at Camp Shelby for at least 20 years.
Lance Looney, 26, from Stonewall, received a seven-year sentence.
David Eugene Bangs, 48, of Biloxi, is serving six years and three months.
The Wilsons' sister, Lucy Rebecca Saucier, 50, also was indicted, but died of natural causes in March.
The prosecution sends a strong message to urge people to stay away from the firing ranges at Camp Shelby, said Joel Lee, agent in charge of ATF's Gulfport office.
"It was an extremely dangerous situation that could have caused significant damages and loss of life," Lee said Friday.
"The munitions are highly volatile and unpredictable in nature. Any process in picking them up, handling them and transporting them could have caused them to go off. It also threatened the safety of the officers who responded."
Police, firefighters and the Biloxi bomb squad also went to the scene.
At a related sentencing in September, the judge called the men's business venture "foolish" and an "ill-advised enterprise." Though the men pleaded to different charges, "they all did the same thing," the judge said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services