A military surplus store targeted in an investigation into equipment stolen from Joint Base Lewis-McChord is suing the City of Lakewood to regain a business license it lost after its owner bought Army gear from an undercover sheriff’s deputy.
Meanwhile, a former soldier who allegedly funneled stolen equipment to Lakewood military surplus shops pleaded guilty this month to possessing stolen property. Colton Adair Sanders received a 90-day jail sentence. He is awaiting a restitution hearing to determine his fine, according to Pierce County Superior Court records.
Sanders’ arrest in March led Army investigators and local law enforcement agencies to Historical Military Sales of Lakewood. At the time, the Army was looking for about $200,000 worth of missing JBLM equipment, according to court records.
Lakewood police say they helped the Army recover more then $900,000 worth of gear between January and March. Officers obtained the equipment at three stores, and seized training weapons at two of them, Lt. Chris Lawler said. The seized material is not necessarily connected to Sanders or any other individual.
A spokesman from the Army Criminal Investigation Command declined to comment.
Sanders’ case marks the second publicly known theft of equipment from Lewis-McChord in the past two years. In late 2011, a handful of soldiers in the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division made off with $600,000 worth of military equipment. The Army recovered almost all of it, and convicted three soldiers connected to the offense. Two of them are serving sentences of 10 years in prison.
Historical Military Sales lost its business license in April after its owner, David Robinson, bought a military grade GPS device and night vision equipment marked as government property from an undercover sheriff’s deputy, according to city and Superior Court records.
Deputy Shane Darby reported he signaled to Robinson that he had sensitive equipment when he offered the gear in March.
The deputy “sought out Mr. Robinson and identified himself as a friend of Colton Sanders, told Mr. Robinson that the items for sale were restricted and highly valuable, offered them both for $500 and ultimately negotiated a sale of the two items for $100 plus a pair of boots,” according to a summary of the July hearing in which Robinson first asked the city to reinstate his business license.
Robinson and his lawyer, Tacoma attorney John Baner, told Lakewood officials he wanted to make the deal quickly because his store was busy at the time.
Robinson further told the city the stamps on the gear did not convey to him that the equipment had been obtained illegally because the items can be bought on the Internet with the same markings as government-owned property.
He declined to comment when a News Tribune reporter called him Tuesday, referring questions to his attorney.
“I’ll be glad when this is all over,” he said.
Stafford Smith, the Lakewood hearings examiner who considered Robinson’s appeal, said the businessman “either knew, or based on the circumstances and his experience should have known, that these items were not available to the civilian market and must have been stolen.”
Smith cited some of the other items seized in Robinson’s shop, such as a defused mine, a bomb disposal suit and brand new military cots, to suggest that the store was dealing in equipment that belogned on base.
Lakewood’s municipal code allows the city to suspend a business license if it has evidence suggesting a company is dishonest or operating as a front to sell stolen goods.
Robinson now wants a Pierce County judge to review Lakewood’s revocation of his business license. He contends officers overreached when they searched his store in March.
His attorney called the city’s move “arbitrary and capricious.”
“The facts produced were insufficient to justify the revocation,” Baner wrote in a court filing.
According to court records, a confidential informant led investigators to Sanders in January. The informant told agents he had seen stolen military gear in Sanders’ house. Lakewood police arrested him in March. Sanders’ girlfriend told officers the former soldier had been breaking into a Lewis-McChord motor pool to steal equipment.
The girlfriend further told police Sanders would sell the stolen gear a Lakewood pawnshop owned by a man named Dave.
In interviews with police, Sanders reportedly admitted he stole Stryker parts, water cans and other equipment from the motor pool. He said the Dave who bought gear from him at the pawnshop appeared to know it was stolen.
“Dave had warned him of ongoing efforts by military (investigators) to locate the missing property,” according to charging papers written by Pierce County deputy prosecuting attorney Lisa Wagner.
Officers obtained a warrant to search Robinson’s shop on March 22. They found seven receipts from sales Sanders made to the store, including three from a single week in January, according to Lakewood records. Court records in Sanders’ case do not identify the store Historical Military Sales or use Robinson’s full name.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646