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Seven Indicted in $13 Million Theft of Combat Equipment

October 3, 1996

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ The largest known theft of combat gear from a military base, including a World War II-era Sheridan tank and more than 100 combat vehicles, led to the indictment of seven civilians Wednesday.

``This was not a crime of opportunity,″ said FBI agent Michael J. Santimauro. ``This was a very sophisticated scheme to remove property, to manipulate the system and corrupt individuals.″

The tank, 17 armored personnel carriers and other vehicles valued at $13 million were stolen from Fort McCoy, a 60,000-acre training base in western Minnesota with 2,300 civilian employees and about 200 military personnel.

``We have no evidence that any of these items have got into the hands of extremist groups or militia groups,″ U.S. Attorney Peg Lautenschlager said, announcing 17 counts of theft, conspiracy and bribery.

Instead, the highly prized vehicles were sold to museums and collectors.

Although no missiles or other weapons were stolen, launchers for TOW anti-tank missiles were mounted on some of the armored personnel carriers.

Each carrier would be worth an estimated $350,000 to collectors.

Also stolen were Jeeps, an airport runway snow blower, a crane, other heavy equipment and trucks. Most of the equipment has been returned to Fort McCoy.

The indictment named two civilian employees at Fort McCoy who allegedly accepted $38,000 in bribes and forged documents allowing the gear to be trucked away; two military surplus dealers; a military museum operator; and two other men.

Heavy equipment has been stolen from military bases in the past, but never so many fighting vehicles, said agent Richard R. Smith of the Defense Criminal Investigation Service.

Lautenschlager said the scheme was masterminded by Leo Anthony Piatz Jr., 37, of Hudson, owner of Tony’s Military Surplus.

None of the men were taken into custody. They will appear in U.S. District Court in the next several weeks, Lautenschlager said.

Col. Harold K. Miller Jr., commander of Fort McCoy, was not available for comment Wednesday, the base’s public affairs office said.

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