Osan airman guilty in sports jersey resale scheme
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — A 20-year-old airman who disobeyed orders to quit buying sports jerseys in South Korea and reselling them at a profit was sentenced Monday to a fine, jail time and a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force.
Airman Basic Christopher G. Scarabello was put in leg and arm restraints prior to being driven to a military jail at the Army’s Camp Humphreys, about 40 minutes south of Osan. As he was led from the courtroom, Scarabello, a tall, lean, dark-haired airman in Air Force blue, moved with steady but shortened steps, chains clinking at his feet.
Air Force Col. Steven A. Hatfield, chief military judge for the Pacific Circuit, pronounced sentence after a one-day special court-martial here. Scarabello had pleaded guilty to disobeying an order, dereliction of duty, failure to go to his appointed place of duty and disrespectful deportment.
Besides the discharge, Hatfield fined Scarabello $2,000 and sentenced him to seven months’ confinement. But Scarabello will serve only about 69 days after his jail sentence is adjusted for the time he served in pre-trial confinement since June.
Scarabello, of the 51st Munitions Squadron, had opted for a trial by military judge alone rather than by jury. The airman had been put in pre-trial confinement at Camp Humphreys in June after an incident unrelated to the jerseys.
Selling jerseys was far from Scarabello’s only difficulty with the Air Force, prosecutors said. He repeatedly had been in trouble within his unit; in March, in an Article 15 non-judicial punishment, his movements were restricted, and he was demoted from airman first class to airman basic.
But, said prosecutors, Scarabello broke those restrictions and again was punished under Article 15 in May. He then violated the latest set of restrictions, prosecutors said.
Scarabello was confined after a June 6 altercation with a noncommissioned officer who confronted him about where he was going on base. The incident led to the disrespectful deportment charge, and to his commander’s decision to place him in pre-trial confinement.
Scarabello pleaded guilty to two instances of disobeying an order, including in May, when he’d been ordered to report to a senior NCO’s office.
Two of the other charges stemmed from Scarabello’s involvement in buying sports jerseys, advertising them on the Internet, then shipping them to buyers from the on-base post office, using the military postal system, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said a noncommissioned officer from Scarabello’s unit had spotted him in the commercial district of Songtan, the town outside base, buying jerseys. The NCO subsequently ordered Scarabello to stop reselling the jerseys, because it was interfering with the performance of his military duties.
But, they said, from last October to April, Scarabello continued the traffic, which led to one of the charges of disobeying an order. Because he mailed the jerseys using the military postal system within that same period, he was charged with dereliction of duty. Using the postal system for commercial purposes is illegal.
The jerseys are popular with young servicemembers. Typically, they bear the name of a popular athlete and the athlete’s number; they sell for about $20 in Songtan but can run from $200 to about $800 in the United States, prosecutors said.
“There are no records per se of exactly how much he was making,” said Capt. Carlos Colon, of Osan’s legal office.
Scarabello’s scheme was uncovered, prosecutors said, when investigators for Mitchell & Ness, an American company that makes a popular line of sports jerseys under license, saw the Internet ads and were suspicious.
The Mitchell & Ness investigators ordered a jersey from Scarabello, said Capt. Charles Baum of Osan’s legal office, then alerted the Air Force that it was not made under the firm’s license. The Osan-based Office of Special Investigations agents began a probe; base authorities later recovered about 50 jerseys in raids on Scarabello’s on-base dorm room and at an off-base location.
Before lawyers made their pre-sentencing arguments to the judge, Scarabello was permitted to make an unsworn statement of his own. It was short — little more than two minutes long. Standing before a podium and facing the judge, Scarabello read in a calm, even voice.
“I am still young,” he told Hatfield, “and my life stretches before me. I know that I have so much to offer, and I can make a positive contribution to society.”
Colon then made the prosecution’s statement.
“There is no room in the military for an individual who is going to pick and choose what order he’s going to follow, what orders he’s not going to follow,” Colon said.