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March 21, 2022Corpus Christi, TX, United StatesCounter Proliferation Investigation Unit, National Security

Texas man pleads guilty to conspiring to steal more than $2.1 million in sensitive military equipment following ICE HSI, US Army CID investigation

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – A South Texas man pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to steal more than $2.1 million in sensitive military equipment following an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Corpus Christi and U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID).

Nathan Nichols, a 46-year-old Corpus Christi resident, pleaded guilty March 21 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to conspiring with others to steal $2,176,000 in sensitive military equipment from U.S. Army Garrison Ft. Hood in June 2021.

In agreeing to the plea, Nichols admitted to being in contact with one of the persons responsible for the theft of the military equipment and requested pictures of the property before agreeing to buy it for resale. Once he obtained the items, Nichols subsequently listed them for sale on eBay.

Law enforcement executed a search warrant at Nichols’ residence in July 2021. At that time, they discovered sensitive military equipment including laser range finders, thermal scopes, night vision scopes, night vision goggles and laser aiming devices. All of the property belonged to the U.S. Army.

“By conspiring to steal military-grade equipment and sell it on the open market, this individual potentially exposed sensitive Department of Defense technologies to our enemies, endangered the lives of our men and women in uniform and weakened our national security," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brad Scott, HSI Corpus Christi. "Working together with our partners at U.S. Army [CID], we were able to uncover his actions and mitigate any potential harms that he might have done to the country."

Nichols also pleaded guilty to running an illegal gambling operation in Corpus Christi from March 2018 to August 2019 while he was the co-owner of Theo's Bar and owner/operator of Lady Luck. Both establishments contained illegal gaming devices which people play by using computers and monitors rather than casino-style equipment. The games are software-based and function as traditional slot-machine games or “8-liners.” However, the action of the slot-machine reels are simulated on a computer screen rather than on mechanical reels. Those playing the machines place bets before each spin and receive winnings in cash.

As part of his guilty pleas, Nichols agreed to forfeit a total of $2,185,218.73 as proceeds from his illegal activity. Sentencing has been set for June 21. At that time, Nichols faces up to five years in prison for each conviction. He has been and will remain in custody pending that hearing.

The FBI and Corpus Christi Police Department conducted the investigation into the illegal gambling operation.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSA) Joel Dunn and Christopher Marin are prosecuting the cases with the assistance of Asset Forfeiture AUSA Yifei Zheng.

HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.