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CAMP CASEY, South Korea — A U.S. Army sergeant received a four-month jail sentence after admitting to stealing debit cards from battalion mail and using them, according to testimony at a Camp Casey court-martial Monday.

Sgt. Jeffrey A. Minnick of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 6th Battalion, 37th Field Artillery pleaded guilty to charges of theft, attempted theft and property destruction after citing gambling addiction as his motivation.

He also pleaded guilty to bringing discredit to the armed forces based on both the theft and an attempt to quash an investigation by offering compensation to a soldier whose debit card he used.

In addition to the jail term, Minnick was reduced in rank to E-1, will forfeit all pay and will receive a bad conduct discharge.

“This is by far the lowest moment of my life, and I spend every second of every day thinking about (the crime),” Minnick said to the judge.

On June 13, Minnick opened two letters containing debit cards and two others containing personal identification numbers while acting as the battalion’s mail clerk.

He attempted to use one of the debit cards at a Camp Casey ATM, but the account had not yet been activated. He used another card and withdrew $120 from the account.

“I was just hoping it wouldn’t be noticed,” Minnick told military Judge Col. Gregory Gross during questioning.

Minnick threw one card in the trash, and the other in a river. He then used the money on slot machines at the Warrior Club on Camp Casey.

A short time later, Minnick said he overheard a noncommissioned officer talking about a specialist who had reported having money stolen, and saying that the surveillance camera at the ATM had an image of the thief.

Minnick called the specialist and asked “how much it would take to make everything go away,” he said.

The specialist said he only wanted his money back, but that the investigation had already started.

Minnick said he began gambling soon after he divorced his wife in December 2005, which coincided with a professional setback.

He says he now lets his new wife of five months control all of his finances, and he understands that the odds were always rigged against him.

“She keeps me from ever wanting to go into the game rooms,” Minnick said. “(Slot machines) make money for the people operating the machines, not the people who are playing them.”

The government asked Gross for a two-year prison sentence.

Minnick stole from fellow soldiers, abused their trust and then tried to cover it up by bribing one of the soldiers he stole from, prosecutor Capt. Charles Halverson said.

“Trying to buy your way out of an investigation is reprehensible,” Halverson said.

Official: No specialized help for gamblers

CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Servicemembers here have multiple opportunities to gamble at slot machines in South Korea, but no specialized care if they become pathological gamblers.

Pathological gamblers must “get creative” to treat their disorder while serving on the peninsula, said Area I alcohol and drug control officer Dan Silvia.

Silvia’s office has worked with some servicemembers with gambling problems who were referred to them by their commands; however, his office doesn’t have any counselors who specialize in pathological gambling addiction.

Mental health personnel and chaplains also help servicemembers with problem gambling, he said.

“I don’t want to say it falls in between the cracks, but in a way it does,” Silvia said.

Silvia says he hasn’t seen large numbers of gambling addicts as compared with drug and alcohol addicts, “but when you do see a problem, it tends to be pretty steep.”

On Monday, Sgt. Jeffrey A. Minnick told a military judge that his gambling problem led him to steal debit cards from fellow soldiers, though he admitted the problem did not excuse his actions.

Last year, Pvt. Andrew Foster was convicted at Yongsan Garrison of stealing more than $5,000 from three people to feed his gambling addiction.

The American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association both recognize pathological gambling as a diagnosable mental disorder.

A 2001 study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that pathological gamblers were six times as likely to engage in alcohol and drug abuse. Other studies have shown neurological similarities between pathological gamblers and substance abuse addicts.

— Erik Slavin

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