South Korea-based Marine officer escapes punishment for stealing electronics, cosmetics from base

Marine Lt. Col. Samuel K. Lee was convicted in September 2020 of stealing hundreds of dollars of goods from a base store in South Korea.


By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 5, 2020

A Marine lieutenant colonel found guilty of stealing hundreds of dollars in merchandise from a base exchange in South Korea has escaped punishment, according to a published report.

Lt. Col. Samuel K. Lee, 47, was convicted Sept. 11 at Camp Foster, Okinawa, of two counts of violating Article 121 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or larceny of non-military property valued at $1,000 or less, the military news website Task & Purpose reported Thursday, citing court records.

Lee, a logistics officer for Marine Forces Korea, stole a 4K ultra high definition wire-free security camera system, Apple Airpods with a wireless charging system, Bose noise-canceling headphones and Estee Lauder ReNutriv Ultimate Diamond energy cream between Nov. 1, 2019, and March 8, 2020, according to the report, which cited Marine officials with knowledge of the charges.

A conviction for theft at or under $1,000 could bring a bad conduct discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and confinement for one year, according to the manual on courts martial.

However, the judge in the case “did not impose punishment,” according to the Corps’ report on court-martial dispositions for September, “consistent with the plea agreement.”

Lee remains on active duty and is stationed at Marine Corps Forces Korea, spokesman Capt. Joseph Butterfield wrote in an email Thursday to Stars and Stripes.

A legal scholar contacted by Stars and Stripes said Lee escaping punishment is out of the ordinary.

“It is unusual in my mind that a convening authority would protect an officer from punishment under these circumstances,” Crista Kraics, a retired Marine Corps judge advocate, told Stars and Stripes on Thursday by email.

Lee, a former Combat Logistics Battalion 5 commander, has been in the Marines for more than 23 years, Task & Purpose reported. He earns approximately $10,000 per month, according to military pay scales posted to the Defense Finance Accounting Service website.

Kraics said lower enlisted Marines typically receive harsher punishments than the one rendered in the Lee case.

“An enlisted Marine at Special Court Martial, even under a pretrial agreement, would likely receive a harsher punishment and fewer agreed-upon protections for this level of larceny,” she said.

Decisions like the one in the Lee case “absolutely” erode morale, Kraics said.

“When senior officers commit misconduct, the first question that springs to mind is how many junior Marines has this officer been responsible for punishing for equal or lesser crimes,” she said. “Officers should be held to the highest of standards, as we learn from commissioning and throughout our career.”

Twitter: @MatthewMBurke1