A former U.S. Army Green Beret pleaded guilty to his role in a conspiracy while deployed to Afghanistan to steal about $200,000 from government funds meant for purposes ranging from humanitarian efforts to base construction, prosecutors said.
The Raleigh-based U.S. attorney's office said in a news release that William Todd Chamberlain, 46, pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy and receiving stolen government property. When he's sentenced at a later date, he'll face as many as 15 years in prison, though others in the case received probation.
Prosecutors said Chamberlain and four other members of the 3rd Special Forces Group based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, stole about $200,000 while deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010. The news release said the five soldiers had access to separate government funds meant to purchase operational items not available through normal supply systems, to pay for humanitarian purposes such as building roads or to fund counterterrorism efforts.
“Our office stands committed to routing out public corruption. Chamberlain and his teammates abused the unique trust bestowed upon them by the military as members of the Special Forces,” U.S. Attorney Robert J. Higdon said in a statement.
The indictment said that the soldiers converted some of the cash into money orders, sent it to family in the mail or brought it with them to the U.S. at the end of their deployment. They often withdrew a few hundred dollars at a time, according to court documents. For example, prosecutors wrote that Chamberlain used federal funds to purchase two money orders for $900 apiece and deposit those money orders in a bank account in November 2009.
Prosecutors said in court documents that the soldiers fabricated financial records to cover up the missing money.
“Knowing that they would be accountable for all of the federal monies spent in connection with operational and reconstruction efforts, the co-conspirators falsified receipts to conceal the amount of monies stolen,” prosecutors wrote.
When confronted about the money by authorities, the soldiers lied about where it came from, according to prosecutors.
“They either claimed falsely winning the cash gambling or bringing the cash with them from the United States when deployed," the news release said.
The four other soldiers involved in the case pleaded guilty in 2014. Each was sentenced to three years' probation. Chamberlain's case was prolonged when he filed motions, ultimately dismissed by a federal judge, arguing he needed to access classified information to help his defense, according to the news release.
Prosecutors said Chamberlain was a sergeant first class and the engineer for the team. Prosecutors said three of his teammates were prepared to testify “that they handed him large sums of U.S. currency and saw him at the post office purchasing postal money orders.”
Authorities said the crime was especially serious because it took place during a deployment to a war zone.
"Theft of U.S. government funds in a war zone is a serious crime that weakens our national objectives in Afghanistan,” John F. Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said in a statement.
An attorney for Chamberlain didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment Tuesday.