An Air Force staff sergeant was sentenced to six years in military prison Thursday for stealing four laptop computers from the center that oversees operations in the Middle East.
Sheridan Ferrell II also will be demoted to airman basic, then dishonorably discharged after his release from prison.
Ferrell, 33, showed no emotion as the sentence was read, but his wife sobbed and left the small military courtroom at MacDill Air Force Base, home of U.S. Central Command.
Though the computers contained sensitive information, officials said that the thefts didn't compromise classified material. Ferrell said he took the computers last summer for his own use. He blamed his actions on stress but prosecutors said he was trying to get back at someone over a mix-up on the job.
Before the sentence was announced, Ferrell cried as he apologized to his family and the military.
"I destroyed the most important thing servicemen and women share with each other, and that is trust," said Ferrell, who received numerous awards. "No longer will I be able to stand amongst you with pride and dignity that I've had for the past 15 years."
In a plea agreement, Ferrell also admitted stealing two hand-held digital devices. The government withdrew a charge of stealing a hard drive, which he had denied. The judge had first issued a seven-year sentence, then was allowed to read the plea agreement and accepted its six-year term. Ferrell had faced up to 21 years in prison.
Ferrell testified that financial problems, the stress from working long hours and a mix-up with his application for a warrant officer program led to the theft. He said he considered selling the laptops, but once the investigation started, he felt trapped.
"You can't sell them. You can't take them back," he said.
Lt. Col. Arthur Jackman, who prosecuted the case, called Ferrell's actions a "cold, calculated and deliberate" effort to get even over a deadline mix-up.
"His intent was to disrupt Central Command," Jackman said. "High standards are expected. Duty. Honor. Country. One thing we do not expect is revenge."
Central Command is responsible for U.S. security interests in the Middle East. It oversees the continuing military operation in Afghanistan and has been deeply involved in planning for a possible U.S. effort to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.