Former Camp Hansen brig guard sentenced in bribery case
July 22, 2006
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A former Marine guard at Camp Hansen’s Joint Forces Brig will see how life feels on the other side of the bars.
Cpl. James D. Wheeler Jr., 22, a former brig segregation unit supervisor, was sentenced at a special court-martial here Thursday to six months’ confinement, reduction in rank to E-1 and a bad conduct discharge for accepting bribes from an inmate.
Wheeler, of Richmond, Va., pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty, making a false official statement and taking about $1,525 in bribes from a prisoner between January and April.
During questioning by Col. Bruce D. Landrum, the presiding judge, Wheeler said he was in charge of the brig’s special-quarters unit, a separate segregation section for new inmates and those awaiting transfer to prisons in the States. During a three-month period beginning in January, he took money from convicted murderer Audley G. Evans III to buy and smuggle into the brig about 15 music CDs and a bottle of an ephedrine-based weight-loss and muscle enhancement supplement.
In a tearful statement before sentencing, Wheeler said he took the money to help pay for his mother’s medical bills.
“I am deeply sorry for the trouble that I have caused,” he said, standing at attention and reading from a statement. He said he should have reported Evans’ bribe offers, but “I felt it was a quick, easy way to help my mom,” who he said has cancer and depends on him.
Wheeler said Evans transferred money by phone to Wheeler’s bank account. He also admitted lying when he told investigators that Evans and others had threatened to beat him if he did not buy CDs and food for them.
“I knew I had to come up with something, and that was the first thing that popped into my head,” Wheeler said.
Evans led a shoplifting ring of dental technicians on Camp Hansen. He was sentenced in September to life in prison, with no possibility of parole for 40 years, for slaying Seaman Adam Palecco, 21, a fellow dental technician who he suspected was about to tell authorities what he knew about the ring.
Palecco’s body, which had been nearly decapitated and pierced with 16 stab wounds, was found in a drainage tunnel near the clinic on Feb. 4, 2005.
Wheeler said he bought items for Evans four or five times and knew brig rules allowed Evans no more than five CDs in his cell.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Wilson, brig supervisor, said several prisoners reported the scheme.
“Was this serious contraband?” Judge Landrum asked.
“Yes, sir,” Wilson responded. “It shows favoritism and fraternizing with the prisoners and has the potential to put the guards at personal peril. If I’ve got a corrupted guard running wild, it disrupts the whole system.”
Lead prosecutor Capt. Andrew D. Beckwith sought a full year in prison, arguing Wheeler destabilized the “environment of the prison.”
“He was placed in a position of special trust and confidence, and yet he made himself a tool in the hands of this convicted murderer,” Beckwith said. “It made the other prisoners wonder who was really running the show up there.”
Capt. Jennifer Herrmann, Wheeler’s lawyer, argued for no discharge and two months’ incarceration, asking the judge to consider that Wheeler had a sick mother, a young son and a pregnant girlfriend to support.