An Albion man pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing gun parts from a New York National Guard maintenance shop, saying a military inventory system that could have been developed by television's "Gomer Pyle" allowed him and others to do so freely.
Glenn Kellar, 47, a former sergeant in the Guard, said the military placed virtually no controls over the gun parts that were kept at his former workplace, the 134th Maintenance Company in Rochester.
"There was firm control over whole weapons, but parts, you could get them all day," Kellar said in an interview at U.S. District Court. "It was a Gomer Pyle operation."
Accompanied by his lawyer, Glenn E. Murray of Buffalo, Kellar appeared before Judge William M. Skretny to plead guilty to one felony count of theft of government property.
U.S. Attorney Dennis C. Vacco said Kellar admitted to stealing parts worth more than $1,000 for M-16 rifles, pistols and smoke grenades. According to a plea agreement filed in court, Kellar must provide Vacco's office with information about the weapons scheme. Kellar, two other Western New York Guardsmen, and a Rochester police captain were charged last year after a federal investigation into the thefts of gun parts in Rochester and Buffalo.
Kellar said outside Skretny's courtroom that his involvement in the thefts virtually has destroyed his life and those of his wife and his stepson.
"I lost a good job with the Guard. I'm losing my house, and I haven't been able to get a steady job since all this happened," Kellar said. "At the time, we didn't realize how serious it was, but now I know."
Kellar was a sergeant at the Rochester maintenance shop. He said he learned from other Guardsmen how gun parts could be stolen, then traded to Guardsmen in other cities, eventually getting enough parts to make a whole gun.
He and Murray said they agreed with a government audit report released last month by Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., that strongly criticized the New York National Guard for not doing enough to prevent thefts of gun parts.
"As the report says, there are not enough safeguards," Murray said. "There's a large hole in the accounting system of the military. Glenn (Kellar) is not blaming anyone else for what he did, but he was not the only one doing it. It was pretty well known in his unit that if you wanted gun parts, you could get them. It goes on all over the country."
Lt. Col. Peter Kutschera, Albany spokesman for the New York Guard, said the Guard has improved its inventory procedures since the investigation was conducted last year. But the Guard is handcuffed from making further improvements because of Army regulations.
"We have implemented as many controls and accounting restraints as we can, given the acknowledged defects in the U.S. Army's control procedures," Kutschera said. "Under existing regulations, the small weapons parts are not inventoried. The controls on them are either non-existent or weak."
Skretny approved Kellar's guilty plea and said he will schedule sentencing for February. Kellar could face up to 10 years in prison, but is likely, under federal sentencing guidelines, to get four to 10 months, according to Murray and Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc S. Gromis.