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Ex-NC Employee To Be Sentenced In Surplus Scheme

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File photo of a judge's gavel. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

File photo of a judge’s gavel. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — From a distance, the grounds at the Kerr Lake Volunteer Fire Department in rural North Carolina looked like a repository for military equipment.

That was the first sign something was wrong.

Investigators say Robert Minish, a volunteer firefighter and former manager of a state program that distributed surplus military equipment to police agencies, was not only improperly storing the property, including guns, but also selling some of the gear on eBay.

Minish, 57, of Henderson, N.C., pleaded guilty in April to theft of property belonging to the United States and making false statements.

He faces up to 30 years in prison and $250,000 in fines when he’s sentenced in federal court in Raleigh. He had been scheduled for sentencing Monday, but that date has been postponed until later this summer.

“Programs like this must be audited routinely and carefully. Otherwise people will no doubt take advantage of the lack of oversight and accountability,” said Thomas Walker, a U.S. attorney in North Carolina.

Telephone messages left for Minish were not immediately returned this week.

A recent Associated Press investigation found that a Defense Department program with scant oversight enabled small-town police departments across the country to disproportionately gobble up equipment discarded by a downsizing military, regardless of whether the items are needed or will ever be used.

Minish was the firearms program manager of the Law Enforcement Support Services, a division of the N.C. Department of Public Safety. His job was to help ease the transfer of Defense Department surplus property, including weapons, to state and local law enforcement agencies. He resigned in July 2010, just as federal agents were beginning their investigation.

He also was a volunteer firefighter at Kerr Lake, and that’s where he stored some of the surplus equipment, including boots and vests.

According to a search warrant, he hauled so much military gear to the fire station that one person told investigators the grounds resembled the junkyard from the 1970s TV sitcom “Sanford and Son.”

Vance County took control of the fire department in 2010.

Harold Henrich, director of the county fire department and emergency management services, declined to comment.

But firefighters told investigators they recalled seeing Minish using state-owned vehicles to haul items from Raleigh to the Kerr Lake firehouse.

Problems with the North Carolina program came to light during a 2009 audit. Investigators discovered that dozens of firearms, including assault weapons, loaned to North Carolina law enforcement agencies through the program were unaccounted for.

Investigators also found that Minish’s records reflected that firearms were being improperly stored at the program’s headquarters in Raleigh. His agency wasn’t supposed to possess any weapons.

According to court documents, Minish made numerous false statements. He gave investigators the names of several police departments he said had the weapons. But when investigators checked for themselves, they discovered the departments never had them.

Then Minish created an elaborate ruse to cover his tracks, court documents said.

In June 2010, Minish said the Alamance County sheriff’s office had sent several of the missing weapons in a package to his agency.

But when investigators checked, they discovered the package had been mailed from a post office in Mebane, N.C.

Minish eventually admitted that he had been in possession of the firearms and that he mailed the package in an attempt to deceive investigators.

They also discovered that Minish had stolen nontactical surplus equipment and sold the gear on eBay, making more than $30,000 between August 2008 and September 2010. The items included night vision goggles, M49 spotting scopes, encrypted radios, air point rifle scopes and gun-cleaning kits.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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