Three junior sailors have pleaded guilty to their roles in the 2021 fentanyl-related death of a fellow sailor aboard Naval Station Great Lakes, Illinois, home of the Navy’s boot camp, officials have confirmed.

A 21-year-old recently graduated sailor died Nov. 6, 2021, after taking the drug in a barracks building aboard Great Lakes.

Navy Times has confirmed the deceased sailor’s name but is withholding it at the request of his family.

During a two-day trial at the Illinois base on Sept. 28 and Sept. 29, Seaman Brandon R. Ledesma pleaded guilty to a negligent homicide charge specification for giving the deceased sailor fentanyl, according to a Navy Region Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Beth Baker.

Ledesma agreed to a plea deal and initially faced another negligent homicide charge specification for failing to contact authorities after the sailor collapsed, according to Ledesma’s charge sheet.

He also pleaded guilty to an obstruction of justice charge specification for moving the sailor’s body into another room aboard the USS Cole barracks building on base, according to Baker and charge sheets. Ledesma further pleaded guilty to one charge specification for distributing fentanyl aboard the base on Nov. 5, 2021, the day before the sailor’s death, Baker said in an email.

Ledesma initially faced multiple additional charge specifications, including involuntary manslaughter, lying to authorities, using and distributing a variety of illegal drugs aboard the Illinois base and for stealing more than $500 in video games, clothing and hygiene items from the base’s Navy Exchange, according to his charge sheet.

A military judge sentenced Ledesma to 28 months confinement in the brig, a dishonorable discharge and reduction in rank to E-1, Baker said.

Earlier in September, a second sailor, Seaman Recruit Caleb Taper, pleaded guilty as part of a plea agreement in connection to the sailor’s death.

Taper pleaded guilty Sept. 15 to a variety of charge specifications, including for helping to move the body and multiple drug use and possession crimes, according to Baker and his charge sheet.

The plea deal saw Taper avoid conviction for involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide in connection to the sailor’s death, charges he initially faced.

A military judge sentenced Taper to 37 months of confinement, a dishonorable discharge and total forfeitures of pay, according to Baker.

Fentanyl, an opioid, originally was conceived as a powerful prescription painkiller that dwarfs the potency of morphine and heroin, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Illegally made fentanyl powder is often snorted, sniffed or smoked, and is sometimes cut into heroin or cocaine, or laced into prescription painkillers like oxycodone, without the user knowing it.

The Navy has declined to provide further details of the events leading to the sailor’s death, so it remains unclear how he came to ingest the drug.

Fentanyl was involved in 174 overdose cases in the military from 2017–2021, with fatal fentanyl doses more than doubling during that span, according to Defense Department data released in February.

The Navy has declined to release specific data showing how many sailors have suffered fentanyl-related deaths in recent years.

In civilian America, more than 107,000 people suffered fatal overdoses in 2022, and more than two-thirds of those deaths were attributed to illegally manufactured fentanyl, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Illinois base is home not only to the Navy’s boot camp, but to a variety of follow-on schools for newly minted sailors.

Ledesma, Taper and the victim had recently graduated boot camp and were awaiting orders to Naval Submarine School, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Molly Sanders said in an email.

Navy defense attorneys for Ledesma and Taper did not respond to a request for comment.

The Navy also has confirmed that a third sailor, Seaman Apprentice Samuel I. Quan, pleaded guilty in November to charges that involved failing to report the moving of the sailor’s body, for wrongfully leaving the base in June 2022 and for possessing a Phase II Naval Service Training Command liberty card that he was not authorized to use.

Quan was sentenced to 90 days’ confinement, reduction to E-1 and a $10,000 fine, and his plea agreement contained a waiver of his right to an administrative separation board, according to Baker, who added that Quan is no longer in the Navy.

Quan could not be reached for comment.

The sailor’s family declined comment for this report, but an obituary states he ran track and played basketball in high school and was remembered for his laughter and compassion.

Meanwhile, investigations into drug use, possession and distribution aboard the Illinois base have skyrocketed in recent years, according to data obtained by Navy Times.`

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS, has conducted 70 narcotics investigations there since January 2020 ― more than double the 31 narcotics investigations the agency conducted between January 2015 and December 2019, according to agency spokesman Jeff Houston.

Such cases involved sailors and civilians. Houston said the agency could not clarify which drugs were involved in each of the probes by Navy Times’ deadline.

The Navy community aboard the Illinois base also has seen five of its sailors die of drug overdoses since January 2020, according to NCIS.

Two died in 2020 and 2021, respectively, while the fifth passed away in 2022.

Three of the individuals suffered fatal overdoses off base, while the other two occurred inside the wire, the Houston said.

Another junior sailor died a fentanyl-related death in the Great Lakes base barracks in October 2020, according to NCIS records.

In 2020 alone, NCIS investigated at least five instances of drug smuggling aboard Great Lakes that at times involved the U.S. Postal Service, Navy Times reported in August.

Those substances included fentanyl, cocaine and the opioids hydrocodone and oxycodone, as well as the hallucinogen LSD, Xanax and THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana.

“Numerous service members have been interviewed and related the illicit substances were being sent via the US mail and/or in re-packaged food containers,” according to a December 2020 NCIS investigative summary report.

NCIS has yet to provide further records on those probes that have been requested by Navy Times via a Freedom of Information Act records request.

Navy officials did not answer questions about whether mail-screening procedures at the base near Chicago have changed in recent years, saying only in a statement that “all inbound mail” to the base is screened.

“Packages are x-rayed and military working dogs randomly screen mail,” Sanders in an email.

Asked whether the Navy believes that cases of drug use or smuggling aboard Great Lakes were indicative of larger systemic issues, Sanders said that “the health and wellness of our Navy Sailors and community are a top priority.”

“We take pride in developing a culture of excellence, trust and respect, where our Sailors can reach their full potential,” she said.

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at

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