82 U.S. Servicemen Convicted in Drug Sting

One of the largest military drug investigations in recent years has led to the conviction of more than 80 enlisted Marines and sailors at Camp Lejeune for using and selling Ecstasy, cocaine, LSD and methamphetamine.

The troops, along with 99 civilians, were arrested in a two-year undercover investigation that also resulted in the seizure of more than $1.4 million worth of drugs.

All of the convicted troops received dishonorable discharges and confinement ranging from three to 19 years, said Special Agent Robin Knapp of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

The investigation began in February 2000 after Camp Lejeune officials learned that a large number of service members were frequenting clubs where designer drugs were prevalent in Wilmington, about 40 miles south of the base.

Arrests were made at the base, in nearby Onslow and New Hanover counties and in Wilmington.

Drug charges were filed against 84 active-duty service members, none of them officers. Sixty-one were accused of distributing drugs and 23 were accused of using them.

All but two were convicted in military court, Knapp said.

Code-named Operation Xterminator, the investigation was conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service office, along with state and local authorities.

Knapp called the arrests "significant" but not extraordinary.

"This is not unique. This is what we do for a living," Knapp said.

Base spokesman Maj. Steve Cox pointed out that the 84 people involved make up only a fraction of the 50,000 to 60,000 active-duty personnel at the sprawling coastal base.

"That's 0.001 percent of the forces at Camp Lejeune. It's not an epidemic by any means," he said. "From a Marine Corps perspective, we view drug use as a societal issue. We would be naive to think our Marines are not using drugs."

Knapp said he didn't know what had happened to the civilians charged, but he understood that a couple had been convicted. He said he believed most of the cases were still in the court system.

Although narcotics cases in the military are not rare, they usually involve smaller numbers of people.

Thirty-eight cadets out of 4,300 at the Air Force Academy were implicated in a rash of incidents that began in December 2000 and grew to become the biggest drug scandal in the school's 47-year history.

In 1996, five midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., were court-martialed and jailed on drug charges, and 15 others were expelled.