US soldier stole equipment from armory, pawned it, agents say
In early April, an estimated $400,000 worth of military equipment was reported stolen from a U.S. Army facility in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Among the missing supplies were tactical vests, gas masks, bayonets, machine gun magazines, and boxes of ready-to-eat meals. Pairs of night vision goggles also went out the door.
Three months after the theft was reported to West Palm Beach police on April 3, Jorge Luis Solorzano Jr., an active-duty U.S. Army staff sergeant who works at the Tuxedo Avenue armory, is facing a federal charge after authorities tied him to two pairs of missing night vision goggles, court filings show.
Solorzano stole the night vision goggles, worth $7,100, according to a criminal complaint filed in the West Palm Beach federal court. He then pawned them for $1,000 at a West Palm Beach pawn shop, authorities say.
It wasn't clear in court documents if Solorzano is alleged to have stolen the other missing items, or if those items had been recovered.
When there were no signs of forced entry into the U.S. Army Reserve Armory, law enforcement started figuring that the theft was an inside job. The theory was buoyed by the fact that the stolen items were taken from locked storage lockers, which were inside another locked cage.
This is not the 29-year-old Solorzano's first arrest. On May 14, 2013, he was arrested by Broward Sheriff's deputies and charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a weapon and discharging a firearm from a vehicle, state records show.
Solorzano has remained on active duty since then, a Florida National Guard spokesman said, because the case hasn't yet resulted in a conviction or acquittal.
"We really have to wait until the civilian process works its way through the system," said Lt. Col. James Evans, based at the Florida National Guard's headquarters in St. Augustine. He added that an administrative investigation has been ongoing since Solorzano's arrest in 2013.
After his July 1 arrest, Solorzano appeared in federal court the next day, records show. He was released from custody, with conditions, after his father agreed to post $100,000 bond, filings state. Those conditions included surrendering his passport and continuing his active duty.
According to the criminal complaint, written by an FBI special agent, investigators suspected that the perpetrator used a key to open the lock of a storage locker, then tried to stage a forced entry by cutting the lock with bolt cutters.
Solorzano, who works at the armory as a supply sergeant, showed up for duty on March 31, despite being off that day. This was unusual, according to the complaint. He was the last person known to have seen or handled the supplies that went missing, the complaint states.
West Palm Beach police officers, responding to the theft call, queried a pawn shop database used by law enforcement. The database showed that Solorzano had pawned the two pairs of night vision goggles on Nov. 30, according to court records.
Police got the pawn transaction receipt on April 8. It had Solorzano's signature, thumbprint, and listed his employment as the U.S. Army active duty, the complaint said.
The Army had also drawn up a list of items that had gone missing. That list contained pairs of goggles whose serial numbers matched the numbers on the goggles that Solorzano is accused of pawning.
A senior FBI official declined to comment specifically on the Solorzano case, but said that in general, the theft of military equipment poses significant dangers.
"Unfortunately, there is a black market for sensitive military equipment," said Michael J. Donohoe, Supervisory Special Agent assigned to the FBI's West Palm Beach Resident Agency, in an email.
"Stealing this type of equipment is not only a costly criminal act, but it could ultimately end up in the hands of a criminal or terrorist organization," Donohue said.
Evans, of the Florida National Guard, said he couldn't comment on what a conviction, either at the state or federal level, or both, would mean for Solorzano's military career.
Evans did say that if a person had already been convicted of similar offenses before trying to enlist in the Army, they likely would've been denied.
"Integrity is the underpinning of military good order and discipline," Evans said. "Whenever there is an alleged breach of integrity, the Florida National Guard takes it very seriously."
Solorzano is a member of Company D, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment in West Palm Beach, Evans said.
Solorzano faces one federal count of theft of government property, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.