May 31, 2008 By Bill Rankin, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Four U.S. Army soldiers who were caught planning a commando-style armed robbery of a purported drug stash house are preparing to plead guilty for their roles in the incident, according to court records and lawyers for the servicemen.
The four soldiers from the Camp Frank D. Merrill mountain training facility in Dahlonega initially were charged with drug conspiracy and weapon offenses after being arrested in January. If convicted, they each faced mandatory minimum prison sentences of at least 15 years.
But in recent court filings, federal prosecutors have reduced charges for three of the soldiers--Andre Champagne, Carlos Lopez and David White--to unlawfully conspiring to take cocaine by means of violence and fear of injury. A fourth soldier, Randy Spivey, plans to plead guilty to concealing a felony, said his lawyer, Page Pate.
The new charges mean the soldiers will not face the minimum mandatory sentences and are likely to receive only a few years in prison. Pate said he will argue for a probated sentence for Spivey, who was not going to participate in the purported raid but covered for a colleague.
Bill Morrison, Champagne's attorney, said his client plans to enter a guilty plea. "We're very pleased that we were able to work this out with the government in a fashion that was acceptable to both parties," he said.
White's lawyer, Paul Kish, said he is in "active negotiations" with prosecutors to resolve the case. Jeff Ertel, Lopez's lawyer, could not be reached.
The four soldiers--three former instructors and a staff sergeant at the Ranger training facility--were caught in an undercover scheme orchestrated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They were led to believe they were going to rob a drug house, killing an armed guard if necessary. After that, they allegedly planned to sell off what they were led to believe would be at least 25 kilograms of cocaine. Each participant expected to get from $10,000 to $15,000 from the sale, according to testimony.
When Champagne, Lopez and White were arrested in Sandy Springs, they were armed with an assault rifle, pistols and about 500 rounds of ammunition.
Agents targeted the soldiers after learning from the manager of a rival strip club that he paid a fifth soldier at the training facility, Sandeo Pablo Dyson, to set fire to Club Onyx in January 2007.
The manager, after acknowledging his role in the arson, began cooperating with agents, telling them about discussions he had with Dyson about robbing a drug stash house. The manager came to know the other four soldiers through Dyson, who provided security at the manager's club.
The ATF then decided to arrange the drug-house sting, with the club manager wearing a hidden microphone. Dyson was transferred to Fort Carson, Colo., before the planned raid.
On April 24, Dyson pleaded guilty to the arson of Club Onyx. He is awaiting sentencing. Boyd Smith and Harold "Bit" Thrower also have been charged in the arson and have pleaded not guilty.