The government is trying to track down more than 150 people suspected of selling hundreds of pieces of stolen military body armor over the Internet, investigators said Thursday.

The outer tactical vests (search), or OTVs, and protective inserts designed to make the vests more bulletproof, were stolen from the military and sold on eBay for $200 to $1,000 apiece, said Edward T. Bradley, agent in charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service's Northeast field office.

Government investigators launched a sting to make purchases on the Internet auction site, and have identified suspected sellers in 33 states, U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan (search) said.

Bradley said some sellers sold the vests and inserts to the families of soldiers headed for Iraq, exploiting fears raised by reports last October that nearly one-quarter of American troops in Iraq lacked ceramic-plate body armor.

One seller advertised that with "the short numbers of body armor given to troops, now you can get one cheap," Bradley said.

Meehan said suspected drug dealers have recently been found with pieces of military body armor.

"This equipment belongs on our soldiers, not on the backs of those who seek a tactical advantage over our law enforcement personnel," he said.

The officials said they discovered sales of 539 vests and 506 inserts, and so far have recovered 88 vests and 104 inserts.

The investigators have identified 157 suspected sellers and charged seven suspects so far.

In one case, Camp Pendleton, Calif., Marine Staff Sgt. Marvin Funiestas (search), 26, was found with more than 100 pieces of stolen body armor. He was convicted in a court martial and sentenced last week to 10 years in prison on charges of conspiracy, wrongfully selling government property and larceny.

Bradley and Meehan said eBay officials helped investigators track down the sellers and buyers, and the Internet site was not being accused of any illegal activity.