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Military man sent to prison for liquor plot

A military postal supervisor at MacDill Air Force Base received a four-year to six-year prison sentence Wednesday for having cases of liquor mailed to him in Saudi Arabia, where he sold it on the black market after the Persian Gulf War.

Alcoholic beverages are illegal in the Muslim nation.

"I sold it to civilian contractors," Senior Master Sgt. Charles Hamilton said Tuesday as he pleaded guilty. "I'd take it to their houses in downtown Dhahran."

A military judge sentenced Hamilton to four years of confinement and two additional years if he fails to pay a $75,000 fine.

Hamilton also was reduced to airman basic, the Air Force's lowest rank, and will lose pay and allowances.

He will be allowed to retire, but his retirement pay will be the lowest possible because of the rank reduction.

Hamilton, 39, a 21-year veteran, had been only one stripe shy of the Air Force's highest enlisted rank.

He had faced a maximum of nine years in prison and a punitive discharge, which would have disallowed retirement benefits for violating federal postal law and military orders against selling, transferring or drinking alcohol in Saudi Arabia.

Hamilton, who lives in Valrico, admitted receiving about 40 cases of scotch and gin between September and December 1991, as Operation Desert Storm troops trickled home.

Each box was wrapped with brown paper, weighed about 45 pounds and was sent by registered mail.

Sold at $200 for a 1.75-liter bottle or $100 a liter, Hamilton took in more than $66,000.

He was the enlisted chief of the military post office at King Abdul Aziz Air Base in 1991.

No one has been charged with mailing the liquor.

Boxes that arrived once or twice a week addressed to Hamilton looked suspicious to postal clerk Joy Barleen.

"Most people who are deployed here don't get that many boxes," she told Air Force investigators.