A missing piece of military equipment that showed up on eBay three months after it disappeared helped investigators uncover a $3 million conspiracy involving more than 200 items that mysteriously vanished from the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point on the coast of North Carolina.
Now a 31-year-old state trooper living 1,000 miles away has been charged.
Rafael Montalvo was arrested on charges of conspiracy, theft of government property and interstate transportation of stolen goods dating from March 2018 to the present, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina announced Monday in a news release.
“He conspired with others in and outside the State of North Carolina to steal government-owned avionics and electronic testing equipment from multiple Marine Aviation Squadrons, and ship the stolen goods interstate to buyers located in other states,” prosecutors said in the release.
Montalvo is a former Marine who was stationed at Cherry Point before he became an Illinois state trooper and member of the National Guard in Illinois, according to the release.
He currently lives in Yorkville, about an hour west of Chicago.
According to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday, Montalvo’s scheme started to unravel in October 2019 when the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service got wind that a signal generator valued at roughly $70,000 was missing from a Marine aviation squadron at Cherry Point.
A follow-up search of the same lab from which the generator vanished revealed an oscilloscope — which charts electrical signals — and an oscilloscope calibrator were also missing, the complaint states.
Investigators said the missing oscilloscope calibrator showed up on eBay in January.
A special agent with the NCIS traced the seller to a wholesaler, who told the agent he bought the item from Montalvo, according to the complaint.
Investigators checked military databases and discovered Montalvo was an ex-Marine stationed at Cherry Point from February 2015 to September 2017. He reportedly worked in the squadron where the equipment had recently gone missing and “had access to electronic test equipment and avionics equipment,” the complaint states.
The person who bought the stolen items from Montalvo then sent investigators a picture of the shipping label, which identified the sender as someone named Marcus Brown.
According to the complaint, Brown is a corporal who has been stationed at Cherry Point since February 2017.
Both Brown and Montalvo were squadron managers responsible for keeping inventory of the aviation equipment that is “vital to daily aircraft maintenance and flight operations within the Marine Corps,” investigators said.
Text messages between the pair show Brown was stealing equipment and sending it to locations in California and Texas at Montalvo’s direction, according to the complaint.
“Brown told Montalvo he knew he did not use the gear and had to be flipping it somewhere else,” court filings state. “Brown went on to say he was okay with that, but he requested the sender get a piece of the money.”
Brown also reportedly detailed how he had broken into the calibration lab from which the equipment was stolen.
Court filings show Brown was indicted on similar charges of conspiracy, theft of government property and interstate transportation of stolen goods in July.
In total, investigators said an inventory check uncovered 200 missing items from the squadron valued at more than $3 million. It was not immediately clear Monday whether those items have since been recovered.
A warrant for Montalvo’s arrest was issued Sept. 16, court filings show. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.