Midshipmen sentenced in auto-theft conspiracy 4-wheel-drive vehicles were stolen in New York

November 16, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

After handing out the exam that led to the Naval Academy cheating scandal, then winding up in the middle of an auto-theft ring at the academy, former midshipman Christopher Rounds had his final say before a federal judge in Baltimore yesterday.

"I'm a sleaze," Rounds said as he stood in room 5C of the U.S. District Courthouse, his former colleagues from the academy and one-time partners in the racket seated at his side. "I realize I'm going to be punished, and I accept that."

Rounds, two other former midshipmen and a civilian were sentenced yesterday for their roles in the ring that shipped four-wheel-drive vehicles stolen from New York to Maryland. Some of the trucks were stored on the parking lots at the storied Annapolis institution.

The thieves, who all pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, received sentences ranging from probation to prison from U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis. They were ordered to pay $200 a month for three years to repay the victims in a case that shattered the once-promising careers of a band of midshipmen.

"This was not a pleasurable case to prosecute," assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas DiBiagio said.

Six former midshipmen have pleaded guilty to charges relating to the interstate ring. One former midshipman, Joe L. Smith, was acquitted by a federal jury on Oct. 23 after taking his case to trial. His colleagues were not so lucky yesterday.

Rounds, the former midshipman who distributed the exam in 1992 that led to the biggest cheating scandal in the academy's 150-year history, received five years of probation, including three years of detention in a halfway house.

"I did some pretty bad things," Rounds said.

Garbis agreed.

"I think you are the worst offender," he told Rounds.

Kenneth Leak, who testified against Smith as the prosecution's star witness, received five years of probation. Garbis ordered him to be confined at his home for three months and to wear an electronic monitoring device.

Leak told Garbis he was deeply saddened and sorry for what he had done. Standing at the defense table, his parents sitting behind him in the gallery, Leak said he wanted to apologize to his family, the victims of his crime, the academy and his country.

"The lesson I learned is the price of honor," Leak said.

"I don't think I can add anything to that," said Garbis. "It's shame."

Arthur Sherrod, who was dismissed from the academy, also apologized.

"There's no way I can explain the remorse I feel," he said.

Garbis gave Sherrod five years of probation, with three years of home detention.

The judge saved the most severe sentence for Marcus Peterson, who directed a band of friends to steal the Jeeps, Pathfinders and Toyota 4Runners and deliver them to his door in a tough Queens neighborhood.

Peterson then sold the trucks to the midshipmen, who wore their uniforms to pick up the vehicles. The midshipman retitled the trucks with phony paperwork and placed Naval Academy stickers on the windshields, hoping to keep the police away during their trips back to Annapolis, according to court testimony.

With theft and gun charges in his past, Peterson qualified for prison time under federal sentencing guidelines. Garbis gave him one year behind bars, followed by three years of probation.

Three former midshipmen remain to be sentenced in the case. Joshua Gray, who resigned from the academy, is scheduled to formally enter a guilty plea Friday. Navy ensigns Corey Avens and Arthur Brown, will be sentenced Jan. 3.

"There's not much else I can say," Garbis said after yesterday's hearing. "This is a shame."

Pub Date: 11/16/96

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