Police call profit: Soldiers sold 29,000 pounds of brass to scrapyard

by Vern Evans

The drudgery of picking up casings after a live-fire exercise, a routine part of military life often referred to as “police calling,” can be monotonous, conceivably allowing time for troops to fantasize about how they’d invest their wealth if they had even a nickel for each spent cartridge they meticulously retrieved.

It appears that at least two soldiers may have taken that a step further when they decided to sell 29,000 pounds of spent ammo to a scrapyard near Fort Drum, New York.

That New York scrapyard reached a settlement for unlawfully selling brass casings that the two soldiers and an Army civilian employee improperly sold the company years prior, the Department of Justice recently announced.

The company, Northstar Auto and Salvage LLC, agreed to pay $45,000 to resolve allegations it violated the False Claims Act by receiving the spent ammunition from troops and personnel at the installation who were unauthorized to deliver the casings, the June 14 release said.

“Northstar did not make any effort to verify whether the individuals were authorized to dispose of the brass, beyond accepting their verbal assurances that they were authorized,” the release said.

In this case, the unnamed soldiers and Army civilian could not fool the top brass in their plot to sell the brass to make an extra buck.

Typically, collected cartridges are brought to a centralized processing facility where they’re prepared for sale on the open scrap metal recycling market in order to recoup money for the government. Again, while not glamorous, following a firing qualification or exercise, there can be a sizable amount of expended brass littering a range — doubly so if those on the range decided to conduct a “SPENDEX.” A colloquial term, SPENDEX generally means firing every last round available. The rationale for a SPENDEX can range from not wanting the bean and bullet counters to decide that your unit needs less ammo in the future, to wanting to create such a chorus of sustained fire in the name of training that it would wake the dead. Or, it could just be about avoiding paperwork.

Northstar, however, never had a contract to purchase brass from Fort Drum. Plus, the trio that took approximately 29,000 pounds of casings from the centralized processing facility between 2017 and 2019, and delivered them to the scrapyard in personally-owned pickup trucks, were not authorized to dispose of them. The scrapyard then sold the brass on the open market, making about $24,000 in profit.

The settlement was signed in June, according to a document shared with Military Times by the prosecution, who declined to comment further on the case.

A Fort Drum spokesperson shared that records on the case were not readily accessible and the scrapyard did not return a request for comment by publishing time.

It remains unclear whether any disciplinary steps were taken against the soldiers for their entrepreneurial take on police calling.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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