Ramstein chaplain found guilty of stealing from German grocery store
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 5, 2017
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Capt. Sharior Rahman, an imam at Ramstein Air Base and one of only a handful of Muslim clerics in the Air Force, was convicted by a military judge Tuesday of larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny in a shoplifting incident last year.
The judge, Col. Mark Milam, ordered the chaplain to forfeit $3,000 of his pay for one month but did not dismiss him from the service.
Whether Rahman will remain in the chaplaincy with a general court-martial conviction still needs to be determined by the organization that endorsed him as a military chaplain, officials said.
The charges stem from a shopping trip last year at an Edeka store in Homburg, where Rahman and his wife, Sanam, a civilian, shoplifted about 70 euros worth of groceries, according to court testimony. A second shoplifting involving the couple occurred two weeks later at the Exchange on Ramstein, though no criminal charges were filed in the latter incident.
Sharior Rahman pleaded not guilty to the larceny charges in the Edeka case, which occurred on Nov. 11, 2016, and requested a trial before a military judge alone. Milam announced his verdict Tuesday afternoon, after about a day and a half of testimony.
Rahman, a former Navy medic who has nearly 20 years of military service, could have faced a possible maximum punishment of dismissal from the Air Force, up to a year in prison, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a fine.
The Edeka case unfolded after the Rahmans paid for a few items and headed toward the store exit. They were stopped by an undercover store detective who had been watching them.
Thomas Bex testified he saw Sharior Rahman place fish from the deli in a basket with wheels that the couple used while shopping. As they checked out, “I looked to see if the fish was placed on the (conveyor) belt,” he said.
“What did you see?” a prosecutor asked.
“No fish,” Bex said.
Various unpaid groceries, including the fish and avocados, were found in a large black handbag Sanam Rahman was carrying. Though the government presented no video or audio footage from the store showing that the chaplain helped his wife steal or knew about the items in her bag, prosecutors argued that a suspected shoplifting incident involving the couple just two weeks later at the Exchange on Ramstein pointed to a pattern of deceit.
“A well-rehearsed illusion can fool even a careful observer,” Capt. James Vicchairelli, senior trial counsel, said. Rahman and his wife “are not a Vegas magic act, but they do deceive people.”
Vicchairelli said “the same techniques, same mode of operating were in effect at the base exchange here on Ramstein, and it was caught on camera.” He said that the video to be shown to the judge demonstrated “the same practice of paying for legitimate items and then leaving with the other items.”
Exchange detective Albert Arseneau testified that on the morning of Nov. 27, 2016, while observing Sanam Rahman on one of more than 100 security video cameras in the store, he saw her place items from the makeup department in a black bag. He also testified that he saw the chaplain hand a jump-rope to his wife, which she then placed in her bag.
The Rahmans paid for items in their shopping cart, but Arseneau said he did not see the jump-rope and other items “come out of the purse.”
Arseneau confronted them as they left the Exchange, asking them to come with him to discuss “a discrepancy with their purchases,” he said. The chaplain remained polite and calm, he said, but at one point, Sanam Rahman took off running with her black bag and hid in a stall inside the men’s restroom across from the shoppette inside the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center.
She eventually came out and tossed her bag inside the women’s restroom, video footage would later show, while Arseneau inspected the men’s room for stolen merchandise. When Arseneau came out, he saw the chaplain holding open the bag inside the women’s restroom, where he found the jump-rope behind a trash can and two adhesive eyelash kits on the counter by the sink. About $140 worth of merchandise was recovered, he said.
Rahman’s defense team asserted that there was no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to prove the chaplain stole from Edeka or conspired with his wife to steal from the store. “There’s a real possibility” that Edeka store detective Bex was mistaken in his observations, said Maj. Marquita Ricks. Perhaps they intended to pay for the items, since they had yet to leave the store, when confronted.
“Mere suspicions, assumptions, is not enough,” she said. At the Exchange, it’s not clear that Rahman knew his wife had items in her bag, she said. “Maybe he was too trusting, maybe he should have been more on guard” after the Edeka incident, “but that’s not a crime.”