February 27, 2006
Investigators look into MRE resale on eBay
By Gordon Lubold
Times staff writer
It seems Country Captain Chicken, a military field ration loathed by many service members, has value after all — if only to bidders on eBay.
As service members handed out 30 million Meals, Ready-to-Eat to victims of Hurricane Katrina, a few troops and some victims apparently snagged some of the packaged meals to sell on the popular auction site for personal profit, according to a new report.
The Defense Department inspector general is investigating a handful of service members accused of stealing dozens of boxes of MREs and selling them on the site.
The Government Accountability Office issued correspondence Feb. 13 detailing an investigation it conducted into MREs that were spotted on eBay. Investigators monitored the auction site Oct. 18, after relief efforts in the Gulf Coast region were underway. It found eight eBay sellers hawking MREs, including some evidently “diverted” from Katrina relief efforts.
The sellers included two Katrina victims selling cases of MREs on eBay. But investigators also found an active-duty Marine, an active-duty airman, a Georgia National Guardsman and a retired airman selling MREs on eBay that day.
“Although we cannot conclusively link the remaining five MRE sales to the hurricane relief efforts, our investigation revealed additional instances where sellers may have improperly obtained MREs and sold them to the public for private gain,” said the Feb. 13 letter, sent to House and Senate lawmakers.
The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, said its investigation pertains to about 250 stolen cases of MREs worth about $12,000.
“If military MREs are sold to the general public on eBay, then they are clearly not reaching their intended recipients and [is] a waste of taxpayer dollars and possible criminal activity,” it said.
The GAO referred six of the eight investigations to the Pentagon inspector general and sent copies of its report to the director of the Defense Logistics Agency, which is responsible for distributing MREs.
Gary Comerford, a spokesman for the Pentagon inspector general, said the matter is under review, and officials have not yet determined if they will pursue criminal charges.
“Right now, we’re still … looking into it to see what steps to take next,” Comerford said.
The service members could face charges relating to the resale of military property, according to the GAO.
The retired airman sold his MREs from the Pensacola, Fla., area. The Marine, who took MREs from a trash container at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Ga., sold them from there. The active-duty airman is stationed at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., while the Georgia guardsman was based near Woodstock, Ga. A policeman with the Tennessee National Guard also was found to have sold MREs on eBay, according to the GAO.
A look at the offerings on eBay Feb. 15 showed several sellers of “military MREs,” cases of which go for about $40 or $50 — plus $50 for shipping in one instance.
It is not clear where the MREs on the site originated. But photos of the cartons appear to resemble the MRE boxes familiar to deployed service members.
The GAO said the policy of the Philadelphia-based Defense Supply Center states that MREs are to be sold only to the military and other “federally funded activities.”
Boxes also carry a printed warning: “U.S. Government Property, Commercial Resale is Unlawful.”