The Marine Corps is known for rules limiting recruits from growing facial hair during boot camp.
At its Parris Island training facility in South Carolina, most aspiring Marines are cleanly shaven and get a buzz cut soon after showing up. It's one reason why a store there carries so many razor blades.
But earlier this month, a noncommissioned Marine Corps officer and three civilians at the Beaufort County installation were accused of trying to profit off the store’s cache of grooming supplies after more than $1.5 million worth of razors and razor blades went missing.
First Sgt. Lascelles Chambers, a Marine for the past 21 years, faces possible charges in military court, said Maj. Roger Hollenback, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Forces Reserve.
The allegations emerged publicly after the civilian employees — Beaufort residents Orlando Byson, 35, Tommie Harrison Jr., 27, and Sarah Brutus, 36 — were indicted on Oct. 10 with conspiracy to defraud the United States. The felony carries up to five years in prison. Byson and Harrison also face a felony count of theft of government property, which could bring up to 10 years. They are set to be arraigned Oct. 30 in U.S. District Court in Charleston.
In a preliminary hearing that has not been scheduled, a military judge is expected to decide whether to refer Chambers to court-martial proceedings, Hollenback said. Meanwhile, Chambers is actively serving in the 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company in West Palm Beach, Fla.
"This hearing will determine the Marine Corps' next course of action," Hollenback said in a statement.
At more than $2 each, razor blades can get pricey for the clean-shaven. Because of their value, there's a black market for stolen blades. Police have been fighting high-dollar thefts in places such as Chicago, Florida and Canada.
Marines, most of whom stay clean-shaven, usually see price breaks on shaving supplies at commissaries.
The Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island offers a store where recruits can buy the items at below-market prices. And the facility in Port Royal sees a lot of recruits: About 17,000 a year pass through the boot camp for the eastern half of the country.
Before his assignment there, Chambers had served around the world, a Marine Corps webpage stated. He had been named recruiter of the year in California and was an administrative chief in Japan, all while earning bachelor's and master's degrees.
He started working as Parris Island's service company first sergeant in August 2016.
The indictment, which referred to Chambers by his initials, laid out how the alleged theft conspiracy worked:
Starting around January 2017, Chambers asked Brutus to start stealing boxes of high-end Gillette razors, razor blades and other items from the store’s warehouse. Brutus then enlisted two other employees to help out.
Harrison and Byson took razors from the store every week. They disabled surveillance cameras or took care not to be seen on the footage.
At first, the workers delivered the stolen goods in person to Chambers. But in March, Chambers was transferred to his current post in Florida, so they started sending him packages through the mail.
Chambers then sold the items to people in other states.
The retail value of the merchandise "exceeded $1.5 million," the indictment stated.
But the plan’s unraveling appeared to have stemmed from use of the Postal Service.
In May, boxes stuffed with 720 packs of Gillette Fusion razor blades and razors were sent to New York. The blades sell on Amazon.com for nearly $25 per pack of eight; the razor itself is about $10.
But the next day, Chambers called the Postal Service and inquired about the status of the parcels.
Federal investigators later examined his finances. They found wire transfers from his Navy Federal Credit Union account to one of the employees.
If convicted of the conspiracy, the defendants will likely be ordered to pay back the retail value of everything they took.