Army probes $2M heist of ball bearings

Aug. 11—ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. Army is investigating at least one high-ranking civilian official at White Sands Missile Range and an El Paso contractor for allegedly stealing $2 million worth of nickel ball bearings — that’s a whopping 230,000 pounds of them — used in explosives research at the range, according to a recently unsealed federal search warrant.

The U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Command earlier this month applied for and was granted the warrant, which states investigators have probable cause to believe that Randolph Brady, a former director at White Sands, and Mario Escobedo, the owner of EGL Construction, and possibly others conspired to steal government property. A search warrant return shows federal authorities on Monday seized more than $1 million from a bank account held in the name of Escobedo’s business. No charges have been filed against either man.

A source in March tipped off an Army investigator that metals were being stolen from the missile range in southern New Mexico, according to the search warrant application, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.

The document states an investigation found Brady, who was then a high-ranking official at White Sands, hired Escobedo to remove four holding tanks that contained 3/8-inch nickel ball bearings from the Large Blast Thermal Simulator.

Used in explosives research

The facility has a concrete “shock tube” that can be used to evaluate how items respond to simulated nuclear or conventional explosions, according to White Sands’ website.

The document identifies Brady as the director of the Army Test and Evaluation Command. His LinkedIn account says he is the director of the Survivability, Vulnerability and Assessment Directorate. A spokesman for White Sands Missile Range says Brady no longer works there.

Efforts to reach Brady were unsuccessful.

According to the warrant, Escobedo hired Mountain States Crane, an Albuquerque business, and Maddy Freight Service, a Horizon City, Texas, company, to remove and transport on March 19th and 20th the four tanks, which each contained about 58,000 pounds of ball bearings. So the entire load combined to weigh about 232,000 pounds, which is comparable to the weight of an average blue whale.

The ball bearings were taken to Acme Iron & Metal, a recycling plant in Albuquerque’s North Valley.

“In the first place, it wasn’t stolen,” Escobedo said in a brief phone interview with the Journal on Wednesday. “And it’s not $2 million worth.”

He referred additional questions to his attorney, who couldn’t be reached for comment.

The court documents said that in an interview with an Army investigator, Escobedo confirmed that Brady directed the removal of the ball bearings and Acme Iron & Metal sent him wire transfers for $1 million after the tanks were delivered.

No contracts were ever solicited or awarded for removing nickel ball bearings from the range, according to the search warrant affidavit.

Seizing $1 million

Court documents state that between March 31 and June 16, Acme Iron & Metal made seven wire transfers to Escobedo’s bank account, which totaled $1.4 million. On June 30, records show the account had a balance of $1.1 million. A search warrant filing in district court shows that on Aug. 9, federal authorities seized a little over $1 million from Escobedo’s account.

Owners of Acme Iron & Metal and Mountain States Crane couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

The owner of Maddy Freight Service, who declined to provide his name, said in a phone interview that he was hired to transfer the materials, and his company completed the job. He said he hadn’t been interviewed by any authorities and the interview with the Journal was the first time he heard there were suspicions about the project. He declined to say who hired him.

“I was just hired to move it. They provided the correct paperwork and we went ahead with the project,” he said. “I provided the trucks, they loaded them and took us to where we had to deliver it and we delivered it at their request and they paid me.”

Officials at White Sands declined to comment.

“WSMR is unable to comment due to an ongoing investigation at this time,” Scott Stearns, a spokesman for the missile range, said in an email. “We can confirm Randy Brady is no longer employed at White Sands Missile Range or within the Army Test and Evaluation Command.”