More than $350,000 stolen from Navy cargo ship
The (Norfolk, Va.) Virginian-Pilot
NORFOLK, Va. -- More than $350,000 was reported stolen earlier this year from a safe on a Navy supply ship, federal prosecutors said. And that wasn't even everything in the ship's safe.
There was supposed be more than $692,000, court records indicate.
Ismael Estrada, 65, the Arctic's former purser, was charged last week in U.S. District Court with felony theft of government money. After surrendering his passport Wednesday and agreeing to home electronic monitoring, he was released to the custody of his son.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher George and Assistant Federal Public Defender Richard Colgan, Estrada's defense attorney, declined to comment about the theft from the Arctic, a fast combat support ship tasked with delivering fuel, ammunition, food and cargo to other Navy ships.
According to court documents, the money in the safe was for the "operational use" of the Arctic and to pay the 170 civilian crew members who worked on the vessel.
Estrada served as the Arctic's purser from 2006 through March 2013, documents said.
The theft was noticed April 30, after Estrada was transferred to the Laramie and a new purser was assigned to the Arctic. The Arctic's civilian captain and new purser counted the money left in the safe and realized that there was only $339,409; another $350,118 was missing.
Estrada filed paperwork March 28 indicating there was $692,682.08 in the safe, which was only accessible by him, the new purser and the captain, documents said.
Navy investigators examined the money that was found in the safe. Several bundles had $100 bills on the outside and smaller denominations inside. Two of those bundles had Estrada's fingerprints on the currency bands, documents said.
Investigators also determined Estrada had wired $165,000 to the Philippines during the past five years. The wires appeared to have been performed in such a way as to avoid detection by law enforcement, court documents said.
Estrada told investigators he did not steal the money but could not explain how his fingerprints came to be inside the tampered bundles, documents said.
During the past 12 years, the Navy has been working to get uniformed sailors to stop using cash on ship. In 2010, the Navy announced it had rolled out its Navy Cash program to the entire surface fleet. In April, sailors on 147 Navy ships were using the special debit cards instead of cash, according to a news release.
Navy officials touted several reasons for the creation of the new program, including security. The programs greatly reduced the amount of cash necessary for a ship to have on hand when it deploys, a news release said.
The Arctic is part of Military Sealift Command. A spokeswoman for Military Sealift Command Norfolk said Navy Cash is not used on any MSC cargo ships.