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Ex-soldiers get prison in planned drug house robbery


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Updated: 5:34 p.m. August 25, 2008

Ex-soldiers get prison in planned drug house robbery

By BILL RANKIN

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Monday, August 25, 2008

Five years ago, Staff Sgt. Carlos Lopez played a key role in an operation that found and then killed Saddam Hussein’s two sons. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his valor and cunning.

But on Monday, Lopez, his 12-year, highly decorated military career in ruins, stood quivering before a federal judge. His fall from elite soldier to convicted felon was complete.

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At the close of an emotional hearing, the judge sentenced Lopez to three years in prison for plotting to rob a drug stash house.

Before he was sentenced, Lopez, 30, said he was ashamed of the example he had set for the soldiers in his unit and to those he taught as a ranger instructor at the Camp D. Merrill mountain training facility in Dahlonega.

“My apologies to all of them,” Lopez, said, sobbing.

U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Martin, moved by Lopez’s record of heroism and accomplishment on the battlefield, cut him a break. Lopez’s lawyer, federal defender Jeffrey Ertel asked for 42-month sentence, and federal sentencing guidelines recommended a prison term of up to 63 months.

Martin thanked federal prosecutors for entering into plea agreement that dropped more serious charges that carried a mandatory-minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The judge read aloud commendations from superiors who noted that, because of Lopez’s meticulous planning and care, his unit suffered no losses during a four-hour gun battle in the July 2003 siege on the compound where Hussein’s sons, Uday and Qusay, were mortally wounded.

“With each new mission … Lopez created a legacy that will be hard to replace,” one commander wrote, recommending an award for valor and heroism.

“For me, that is evidence of your character,” Martin said.

Also Monday, Martin sentenced one of Lopez’s co-defendants, 32-year-old David Ray White, a 10-year U.S. Army veteran, to two years in prison for his role in the sting orchestrated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Both Lopez and White, after returning from Iraq, suffered heartbreak and sorrow. Both of their marriages fell apart, leaving them with children to support. Lopez would meet another woman, whom he planned to marry, but she died when her car was broad-sided by a tractor-trailer. White lost his half-brother, also in a fatal car accident, and his father was sent to prison.

Lopez, White and another soldier, Stefan Andre Champagne, were arrested in January before they were to head off to rob the purported drug house. Agents found them equipped with an assault rifle, handguns, 15 magazines of ammunition, a TASER, ski masks and a medic kit.

Champagne and Randy Spivey, a fourth soldier drawn into the scheme, also have pleaded guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced by Martin in September.

Beginning in November 2007, Lopez was drawn into an armed-robbery scheme that was concocted by federal agents and an undercover witness. Lopez recruited fellow soldiers at the ranger training facility to participate in a commando-style raid of a drug stash house. The soldiers would steal up to 25 kilograms of cocaine and then sell it, reaping profits of $10,000 to $15,000 each.

Through meetings, in which their conversations were surreptitiously tape recorded, they planned the raid. They met at a Buckhead hotel and then drove to a staging area in Sandy Springs, where Lopez, White and Champagne were arrested.

“This is exactly what these men were trained to do,” White’s lawyer, Paul Kish told Martin. But once they returned home from Iraq, he added, “they needed to know when to shut it off.”

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Ok, it's not a great thing, because they still intended to sell the coke. And yea, it's was vigilante sort of activity, and yeah, the dude they were stealing from turned out to be DEA under cover, but other than that... At least they were attacking what they thought were "bad guys."

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Beginning in November 2007, Lopez was drawn into an armed-robbery scheme that was concocted by federal agents and an undercover witness. Lopez recruited fellow soldiers at the ranger training facility to participate in a commando-style raid of a drug stash house. The soldiers would steal up to 25 kilograms of cocaine and then sell it, reaping profits of $10,000 to $15,000 each.

And there's your problem

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“This is exactly what these men were trained to do,” White’s lawyer, Paul Kish told Martin. But once they returned home from Iraq, he added, “they needed to know when to shut it off.”

More often lately i hear soldiers are having a hard time with this and its obvious they are not really getting any help from their government.

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Ok, it's not a great thing, because they still intended to sell the coke. And yea, it's was vigilante sort of activity, and yeah, the dude they were stealing from turned out to be DEA under cover, but other than that... At least they were attacking what they thought were "bad guys."

By becoming "bad guys" themselves... They had no other interest other then making money for themselves not serving any greater good.

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By becoming "bad guys" themselves... They had no other interest other then making money for themselves not serving any greater good.

Yes, yes, I know. I'm not trying to excuse them or anything, but I'd rather they undergo an operation like that against a coke dealer than some honest rich dude.

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Well you can't rightfully create a hierarchy of who crimes should be committed against.

No, you're right. Legally, you can't, though it's often reflected in sentencing. In my own mind, however, I sure can.

It's gonna make a decent tv movie!

It would be better than a lot of Hollywood movies, at that! Plus, they'd earn more than a measly 15K for the rights!

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so some undercover DEA agent just propositioned the guy out of the blue to go rob this drughouse?

That's my problem. The article makes it sound like they were approached. You could look at it like when H.I. McDonough used an unloaded weapon to rob the liqour store because he didn't want anyone to get hurt. I mean, they did have a medic kit with them :)

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