Staff sergeant jailed for scamming Army relief program in South Korea
He took a cut when needy soldiers got help
Stars and Stripes
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — An Army staff sergeant was sentenced to one year of confinement and a bad-conduct discharge Thursday after admitting he helped scam an Army relief program and soldiers under his command out of $6,000.
Staff Sgt. Shane R. Martin, 40, admitted in a general court-martial that since fall of 2005 he had helped three soldiers get money from Army Emergency Relief, an organization dedicated to helping soldiers in need. Then, he asked each of the three soldiers for a cut, he said under oath.
Martin took at least $1,800 from the soldiers and split it with a civilian Army Community Services worker, Martin said in court.
Army officials were unable to respond to questions about the civilian worker by deadline. The man was not involved in Thursday’s court-martial.
Martin has not paid the soldiers back, according to court proceedings and lawyers familiar with the case.
“I took an opposite turn of everything I stood for,” Martin, an 18-year Army veteran, told Army judge Col. Donna Wright. “I knew that it was wrong.”
On Thursday, Martin pleaded guilty to larceny, conspiracy, making a false official statement and solicitation to commit larceny. The solicitation charge means Martin, a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, persuaded another person to commit a crime.
He also pleaded guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice.
Martin also was sentenced to a reduction to the Army’s lowest pay grade, E-1. He told the judge he had planned to retire from the Army next year.
Army Emergency Relief is an Army-run nonprofit group, according to its Web site. Generally, the fund will help active-duty soldiers with medical bills, car repairs, food, schooling and funeral expenses during emergencies. It will not pay for legal expenses, bills, consolidating debt or vacations.
Martin said the idea to skim the money came from a conversation with a friend back in 2005. The friend, who worked at Camp Humphreys’ Army Community Services, had the authority to cut Army Emergency Relief checks for less than $2,500, Martin said under oath.
Later, in fall 2005, one of Martin’s soldiers mentioned he was hurting for money. Martin told the soldier if he said his family needed money because of Hurricane Katrina, he would qualify for the relief fund. The soldier said he had no family in the storm-affected area, but he agreed to the plan, Martin said in court.
The soldier got $2,000, and he gave some of the money back to Martin and the ACS worker. The soldier, who now is serving in Iraq, has faced no charges so far in the matter, according to lawyers familiar with the case.
The pattern continued with two other soldiers under Martin’s command in the brigade’s personnel office, Martin told the court.
In the second case, Spc. Tervarious Patterson said his family needed money. Martin helped him prepare the proper paperwork and drove the younger soldier to the ACS office to apply for the money.
After Patterson got the check for $2,200, Martin drove him to the on-base bank. When Patterson came back to the car, Martin asked for $1,100 for himself and the ACS worker, Martin said in court.
Patterson said on Thursday he complied.
“It was weird because he was my NCO, and he’s used to giving me orders,” Patterson testified during the sentencing portion of the trial. “I was just confused.”
In the last case, Pfc. Rachel Chambers confided to Martin she needed money to pay bills. Again he suggested Army Emergency Relief and shepherded her through the process, Martin told the court. When she cashed her check for $1,800, he asked for $700.
“I thought if I didn’t, it might change things at work,” Chambers testified.
After a criminal investigation began, Martin asked Patterson and the company’s executive officer, who had signed some of the relief paperwork, to tell investigators Martin was not involved in the case. Later, Martin himself signed a statement denying his involvement, he admitted on Thursday.
“I have no excuses,” Martin told the court before the sentencing. “I apologize fully for my actions. I was wrong to take money from them.”