MADISON, Wis. -- A military surplus dealer and a civilian Army employee conned five trusting men into helping them steal a tank, missile launchers and dozens of other vehicles from Fort McCoy, defense attorneys told jurors Wednesday.
``This is a case of betrayal. This is a very sad case,'' Owen Williams, defense attorney for Amery scrap dealer Loyd Pilgrim, said in closing arguments at the end of a seven-day trial.
The jury deliberated about six hours before retiring for the night at 8:30 p.m. Jurors planned to resume deliberations at 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
A federal prosecutor, in his final arguments, tried to rebut the defense arguments that the men were duped by surplus dealer Leo Anthony Piatz and Donald Crandall, a former range safety officer at the base.
``Mr. Piatz and Mr. Crandall could not have done this alone,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Bach said.
Pilgrim and the four other men, including a Minnesota military museum president, are charged in U.S. District Court with conspiring with Piatz to steal equipment once worth $13 million.
The loot, still worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, is the largest known theft of equipment from a U.S. military base. Federal prosecutors say Piatz and the men took some of the vehicles off the base with the help of fake paperwork created by Crandall.
Piatz, of Hudson, is awaiting sentencing on theft charges. Crandall, of Sparta, reached a plea deal and also is awaiting sentencing.
Bach said the prosecution's tape-recorded conversations proved the men knew they were stealing equipment from the western Wisconsin fort.
On trial with Pilgrim, owner of Ladd Auto Crushing, are George Pretty, owner of Surplus Enterprises in Sturgis, Mich.; Grant Kruger of Maplewood, Minn., president of the Military Vehicles and Arms Museum of Minnesota; former range maintenance officer Dennis Lambert of Black River Falls; and David Butler, of Fairfield, Iowa, owner of Vintage Power Wagons.
Lambert was ``incredibly naive at times,'' but did not knowingly help take illegal vehicles off the base, said his attorney, Edward Genson.
``He was the object of the con game because he had to help them get these things off the range,'' Genson said. ``He's a decent man, a trusting man.''
Kruger was accused in the conspiracy because the government could not handle the ``public relations debacle'' if it appeared only two men devised the scheme, said his attorney Michael Majeski. At least 153 vehicles, including a tank, armored personnel carriers, Jeeps, snowblowers and rocket launchers, were taken from Fort McCoy, located about 95 miles northwest of Madison. Butler's attorney, Tracey Wood, called Crandall a liar.
``This is a man who has proven to be a liar on numerous occasions,'' Wood said. ``This is a man who will do or say anything to save his own skin.''
Williams, Pilgrim's attorney, asked the jury to consider whether the scrap dealer would have stored the equipment in plain sight at his salvage yard if he knew it was stolen.
``It's out there for the world to see, for the FBI to drive by, for the sheriff to drive by,'' Williams said.
Six charges were dropped after Crandall agreed to testify against the others. He pleaded guilty to a charge of converting government property.
Piatz was convicted of 11 counts in March and faces up to 125 years in prison and $2.75 million in fines at sentencing next month.