European edition, Saturday, July 21, 2007

Italian finance police raided the homes of Navy Exchange employees and people linked to the U.S. Naval Support Activity La Maddalena, recovering merchandise allegedly stolen from the NEX as long as three years ago, an Italian police official said.

The Guardia di Finanza, Italy’s finance police, from the Olbia and Santa Teresa precincts, raided the homes late Wednesday night, and needed two large moving-style trucks to haul the recovered merchandise, said Capt. Cesare Antuonfermo, lead investigator from the Olbia office of the Guardia di Finanza.

Officials estimate the 10 employees and related personnel — nine Italians and one American civilian employee of the NEX — allegedly stole merchandise worth more than 1.5 million euros during the past three years, Antuonfermo said Friday.

U.S. Navy officials declined comment Friday, referring all questions to the Italian investigators, who have the lead in the case.

“The situation is under investigation and we are referring all questions to Guardia di Finanza,” said Lt. Cmdr. Wendy Snyder, a spokeswoman with Navy Region Europe.

A Navy Exchange official also declined comment. “[T]his case is currently under investigation with jurisdiction falling under the local civil authorities. It’s inappropriate for us to discuss anything related to this alleged case,” Phil Garcia, an NEX spokesman, said Friday.

A Naval Criminal Investigative Service spokesman released few additional details.

“NCIS is assisting the (finance police) in the investigation of a large-scale theft ring at the La Maddalena NEX. Evidence indicates that a wide range of items have been stolen, from food to electronics,” said Ed Buice, an NCIS spokesman. “Several Italian national suspects have been identified, but beyond this, NCIS cannot comment on the ongoing, joint investigation.”

Since no formal charges have been filed, Antuonfermo said officials cannot release any of the suspects’ names.

“They stole everything and anything, from barbecues to perfumes to televisions and [computer] monitors. Anything,” Antuonfermo said.

Inconsistencies in the store’s inventory originally prompted someone to notify Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents, who contacted the finance police for help in the investigation since suspects included Italians, Antuonfermo said. NCIS does not have authority to search off-base housing.

The finance police began their investigation in early June, and kept the suspected employees under surveillance. That led, in part, to the search warrants issued for Wednesday’s raids, he said. Finance police agents also watched two NEX employees, carrying large bags, leave the store after it closed Wednesday evening. The employees could not produce receipts for the merchandise.

“This was a collaborative effort” between the finance police and NCIS, he said. “There are 20 meters that separate jurisdiction. Inside the store, it’s American. Outside, it’s Italian.”

The Navy base is slated to close in February, ending a 36-year naval presence on the picturesque, small Italian island of Sardinia. The submarine tender stationed there, the USS Emory S. Land, is scheduled to leave the base in October.

The base is home to naval support staff, the Emory S. Land and Submarine Squadron 22. No U.S. submarines are based there. The closure and subsequent turnover of facilities to the Italian government will affect more than 1,300 U.S. servicemembers, and more than 300 U.S. defense civilian employees, contractors and local employees.

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