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5 Lewis-McChord soldiers being investigated after rocket launcher found off base

TACOMA, Wash. - Five Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers are reportedly under investigation for smuggling a rocket launcher off base last fall, but an Army spokesman said the weapon didn't belong to the base.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives later confirmed the investigation and the number of soldiers to McClatchy Newspapers.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Lewis-McChord's chief spokesman said Army officials conducted an inventory of its M72 Light Anti-Tank Weapon for the past five years after learning about the incident in September and it "revealed no discrepancies."

"We will not speculate on where the weapon came from; that is part of the (ATF's) ongoing investigation," read the statement from Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield.

Asked whether he could confirm that Lewis-McChord soldiers are being investigated, Dangerfield said he didn't know because the ATF was not sharing information about the investigation with Lewis-McChord.

The ATF spokeswoman didn't immediately return a phone message seeking further comment.

The inquiry came after a woman called an acquaintance who works as an undercover officer for the Pierce County Sheriff's Office on Sept. 23 to report that a military weapon was stowed in her garage, sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer said. She told the officer the weapon had been left by one or more soldiers who had been living at the residence, he said.

The woman met up with the officer and a bomb technician who removed the launcher from her car's trunk. They called federal authorities after taking it to the agency's firing range. X-rays taken at the scene determined it was a "fully functional and live device," Troyer said. Federal authorities took possession of the weapon, he said.

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Seattle's KING-TV News was the first to report Wednesday the investigation based on information from unnamed law enforcement sources. That report indicated at least one soldier smuggled the weapon off Lewis-McChord and then it was passed around to other soldiers.

Sources told KING-TV that the soldiers had no intention of use the weapon to harm anyone but expected charges would be filed against them in federal court.

Cheryl Bishop, a spokeswoman for ATF's Seattle office, said the Army Criminal Investigation Command is assisting with the investigation. Evidence is being turned over to U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle for their review, she said.

She declined to provide details, calling it "an open and ongoing investigation."

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment. A spokesman for Army CIC was looking into the matter but didn't respond by Wednesday afternoon.

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