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Thursday 24th July 1997
Military theft ringleader sentenced to 8 years
Judge calls Leo Anthony Piatz's testimony a tissue of lies


The ring leader of the largest-known equipment theft from a U.S. military base was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in prison.

Leo Anthony Piatz was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb to pay $600 in fines and serve three years probation.

He was convicted in March of master-minding the theft of at least 153 vehicles once worth more than $13 million from the Army's Fort McCoy located in western Wisconsin.

The loot included unarmed missile launchers, armored personnel carriers a Sheridan tank, Jeeps, bulldozers, snow-blower trucks and a crane.

Piatz, 38, was convicted of conspiracy, two counts of bribing a public official and eight counts of conversion of government property and faced up to 125 years in prison and $2.75 million in fines.

Four other men convicted in U.S. District Court for their parts in the scheme including military equipment dealers, are scheduled to be sentenced in the fall.

Piatz, dressed in blue twill pants and a navy blue T-shirt, showed little emotion in court, sitting quietly back in his chair with his arms folded across his chest.

After the hearing, Piatz grimaced and told a reporter he felt "not too good."

Piatz, free on bail until he reports to prison Sept. 20 intends to appeal, said his attorney, Steven Pihlaja.

"He still believes he didn't do anything wrong." Pihlaja said after the hearing.

The judge had harsh words for Piatz, saying he may have started as a hobbyist collecting military equipment, but realized he had a "gold mine."

"I think it was something that he wanted to ride to the end " Crabb said.

She said she felt Piatz lied when he testified that he thought he was allowed to take the equipment as payment for helping the base clean up its target range.

"Just generally, his whole testimony is a tissue of lies ... " Crabb said.

The thefts, which took place from September 1994 through June 1996, were aided by payoffs and faked paperwork from base employees, testimony showed.

Former range safety officer Donald Crandall said he a agreed to dummy up the paperwork in exchange for $38,000 in bribes. He said Piatz blackmailed him after he took the first payoff.

Prosecutors agreed to drop six of seven charges against Crandall, 38, for his testimony and a guilty plea to conversion of government property.

Former range maintenance supervisor Dennis Lambert got a truck, a crane and other equipment in exchange for his help to get the equipment off the base.

Piatz, the owner of Tony's Military Surpus, testified that he paid Crandall because he wanted access to Sherman tank scrap on the range.

Once the equipment was taken through the gates of the base on flatbeds and pickup trucks, most of it was sold to collectors and military museums.

Piatz advertised some of the loot in specialty publications such as the National Equipment Digest, including a runway snowblower truck said to a Colorado ski resort for $53,900.

Piatz also tried to interest 20th Century Fox in leasing military e equipment meat including a missile launcher for the Desert Storm movie "Courage Under Fire."