A Navy chief lost rank last month after losing nearly $180,000 worth of night vision goggles, weapon mounted lasers and magnified scopes, according to his charge sheets and Navy officials.
At a special court-martial trial on Aug. 2 in San Diego, then-Chief Gunner’s Mate Grover R. White pleaded guilty as part of a pretrial agreement to failing to obey an order or regulation and was reduced to Petty Officer 1st Class, Navy spokesman Brian O’Rourke said.
White admitted that he failed to maintain accountability of serialized military property and keep inventory documentation on items belonging to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 1 between March of 2014 to October of 2016, according to O’Rourke.
Naval Criminal Investigative Service spokesman Ed Buice said their probe began in November of 2016.
White initially faced additional charges for losing military property and forgery but they were withdrawn and dismissed.
Those discarded forgery charges alleged that White falsely altered a requisition and invoice shipping document by adding serial numbers.
It remains unclear in the legal documents how these items went missing, how many items disappeared and what was eventually recovered.
A spokeswoman for Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group 1, Lt. Kara Yingling, declined to discuss details of the case, saying only that “the Navy conducted a thorough investigation into this matter” and that White was “held accountable for his negligence in failing to maintain accountability of military property.”
White’s private attorney, Jon Shelburne, said this week that the case did not involve a “grander, broader scheme to steal stuff from the Navy.”
“The way this investigation unfolded …there was a concern that they would find stuff on eBay, that they would find stuff on other auction websites,” Shelburne said. “None of that existed.”
Shelburne said his client failed to handle “the affairs as efficiently as he should” but he’s “not guilty of stealing anything.”
“He’s not guilty of taking anything away. What he’s guilty of is not staying on top of the accounting and in some cases delegating down and not supervising properly,” the attorney said.
Shelburne also blamed systemic Navy problems for the lost gear.
“You don’t have enough personnel to track everything, but it’s also just a significant gap in the Navy process,” he said. “But he’s not pointing fingers at the Navy and he’s not pointing fingers at the command.”
White was guilty of giving superiors “the thumbs up that everything’s accounted for” when it was not, Shelburne said.
“You’re talking multiple commands, thousands of pieces of equipment,” the attorney said. “He talked to the judge at length about the accounting, how over the course of years, items were recorded and lost, not recorded, there are multiple discussions with the judge about how things go missing in that environment.”
White’s unit reports to Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, which oversees manning, training and equipping the service’s expeditionary combat forces.
Shelburne said he believed White’s sentence was so low was because he cooperated with NCIS, “and did everything he could to help them locate…the missing equipment.”
“As recently as three days before the trial, some of the items that were at least on the original charge sheet, one of the other commands found them,” Shelburne said. “They revealed to us two days before the court-martial that we needed to amend some of the information.”
Unit spokeswoman Yingling declined to comment on Shelburne’s allegations.
Shelburne said an NCIS agent testified on White’s behalf and said “they were not able to find anyone else that would have been culpable” in the missing equipment.
NCIS spokesman Buice said an agent testified during the trial regarding the facts of the case, as is normal procedure.
“He said during questioning that White had cooperated with the investigation but noted the cooperation did not amount to recovery of the missing equipment,” Buice said.
White enlisted in 1992 and made chief in 2007, according to Navy personnel records.
He reported to his San Diego-based unit three years later.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.