Current, former Mids indicted Five face federal charges involving car-theft ring

April 12, 1996|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN STAFF

Five current and former midshipmen, ranging from a top figure in the Naval Academy's 1992 cheating scandal to an ensign preparing for flight school, were indicted yesterday on federal charges related to a car-theft ring.

It is the latest headache for the beleaguered Naval Academy, which was in the midst yesterday of court martialing and disciplining 24 midshipmen involved in an LSD scandal.

In the past two weeks, the third-ranking midshipman in the school's hierarchy was charged with sexual assault on four women midshipmen, and another midshipman was confined to barracks awaiting charges of child sexual abuse and assault.

"We've just hit a little bit of rough water," said Capt. Tom Jurkowsky, an academy spokesman. Since the cheating scandal, a new academy superintendent has instituted new ethics and leadership courses. "We're changing course," said Captain Jurkowsky. "I think the course we're on is the right one."

According to the indictment, the alleged ring transported eight stolen cars worth $85,000 from New York City to Maryland, where they obtained phony titles and bills of sale before selling them.

None of the transactions took place at the academy, although some of the cars were held there before sale, law enforcement officials said.

"There's no indication that any of these individuals stole cars themselves," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Jordan, noting the charges involve conspiracy and receiving stolen vehicles.

Named in the car-theft indictment were midshipmen Arthur R. Sherrod, a senior from Palestine, Texas, and Joe L. Smith of Jackson, Miss., who was on leave from the academy pending dismissal for offenses unrelated to the indictment.

The former midshipmen include Christopher T. Rounds of Baltimore, who was labelled by Navy investigators as one of those who distributed the stolen electrical engineering exam that led to the largest cheating scandal in the academy's 150-year history..

The other former midshipmen were Kenneth E. Leak of Westbury, N.Y., who was dismissed from the academy in May 1995, and Navy Ensign Arthur K. Brown of Pensacola, Fla. Ensign Brown graduated last year and was preparing for flight training.

Marcus A. Peterson, a civilian from Baltimore, also was named in the grand jury indictment.

Each of the six charged yesterday faces one count of conspiracy to transport, sell or receive stolen motor vehicles, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. With the exception of Mr. Smith, the other defendants also are each charged with one count of receiving a stolen motor vehicle, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Leak, who were roommates as midshipmen, were arrested last year by state police on charges that they used forged motor vehicle titles and bought stolen cars -- including some of the cars listed in yesterday's indictment.

The charges were dropped by the state soon after, said Mr. Jordan, the assistant U.S. attorney, although he had no further information. The indictment shows that neither man played a role in the alleged ring after their arrests. Academy officials, citing privacy concerns, would not say why either midshipman was dismissed.

The indictment follows a six-month joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Maryland State Police. An undercover FBI agent penetrated the ring and traveled from Baltimore to New York to pick up the cars, according to the indictment.

The charges in the indictment cover the period from December 1994 to last month. Some of the cars were sold to wholesalers and local dealerships, including Brown's Nissan in Arlington, Va.

In one case, a tan 1991 Nissan Pathfinder owned by Ed Rahim Shaer was stolen on Feb. 2, 1995, in New York City.

Eight days later, according to the indictment, Ensign Brown added the car to his insurance policy and the following month he applied for a title in Maryland by presenting a fictitious Pennsylvania title dated July 1993 and a bill of sale dated Feb. 10, 1995, in the name of Angela Bassette.

In August, Ensign Brown reported the Pathfinder stolen to Baltimore police. On Nov. 21, 1995, Mr. Sherrod sold the Pathfinder to an FBI undercover agent for $9,000 in cash, delivering the car to the Westwinds Apartment parking lot in Annapolis.

Midshipman Sherrod was arrested yesterday morning at the academy by FBI agents, who also picked up Mr. Rounds and Mr. Peterson in the Baltimore area. They appeared yesterday afternoon before a federal magistrate. All three were released on personal recognizance.

Ensign Brown was taken into custody in Florida. Mr. Leak was arrested in the New York City area. Both were expected to VTC appear before a federal magistrate yesterday. Police are still trying to locate Mr. Smith.

Pub Date: 4/12/96

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