JBLM soldier pleads guilty in debt pay-down scam

A Joint Base Lewis-McChord private who recruited soldiers to join him in swindling money from an Ohio bank recently pleaded guilty to 38 counts of fraud and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Pvt. Jordon Jones of the 555th Engineer Brigade was among 78 Lewis-McChord soldiers who allegedly bilked businesses and organizations including Tacoma Public Utilities and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.

The fraud ring involved as many as 1,800 people who allegedly stole $3.5 million from an account at Credit First National of Ohio. The Army believes about $600,000 went to soldiers, and Jones was one of the key players in luring other service members to participate.

Soldiers and civilians were lured into the scam with a too-good-to-be-true pledge to help them pay down debt. Service members would purchase products at an Army Post Exchange and receive a greater amount of money in return, according to investigative documents.

Pierce County prosecutors in May accused Jannie Lee, 28, of Tacoma of leading the scam. She allegedly used the Credit First National account to pay bills for the scheme’s participants. She’s awaiting a trial.

Lee allegedly recruited people through MySpace, Facebook, Craigslist and at barbecues, bars and other get-togethers.

Jones pleaded guilty to 38 of the 77 fraud-related counts the Army filed against him at a court-martial on Oct. 31. Another soldier who recruited service members to join the scam is expected to face a court-martial after Thanksgiving, spokesman Maj. Chris Ophardt said.

Most of the soldiers in the scam were assigned to the 14th Engineer Battalion and other units within the 555th Engineer Brigade. They have faced a range of punishment including jail, bad-conduct discharges and lesser forms of discipline handed down by commanders, Ophardt has said.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/military