SUFFOLK - A former Navy SEAL who kept explosives after he
left the military faces federal charges after his cache was uncovered at his
Suffolk home last week.
Elbert Tillman Jr., 35, is facing federal charges of possessing firearms and ammunition while being an unlawful user of a controlled substance, as well as possessing firearms not registered to him in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, according to documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Norfolk.
Tillman is also facing state charges and was released Friday on $10,000 bail after a hearing before Judge James A. Moore in Suffolk's General District Court.
Navy personnel records indicate that when Tillman left the
service in 2001, he was no longer a SEAL.
His Trident — the insignia designating him as a SEAL — was removed, but a Navy official didn't say why Friday.
In a Dec. 29 search of Tillman's property at 6508 Ferry Point Rd., police and fire investigators found composition-4, or C-4, plastic explosives; detonators; a claymore mine — 2 1/2 pounds of C-4 packed with buckshot and used in ambushes; ceramic and smoke grenades; flash bangs or diversionary charges; 24 firearms; and 31 ammunition cans filled with various calibers of ammunition, federal court documents said.
More than 200 vials and bottles of steroids and more than 900 steroid pills were also recovered, court documents said.
Tillman told Moore that he was never asked to turn in his weapons when he left the Navy six years ago, so he kept them at home. He said he hadn't detonated explosives since leaving the military.
"He's not a threat to society," Moore said in court. "He did something stupid."
Tillman said the explosives were issued as part of his gear. "Nothing was required to be turned in," he said. "There is no inventory. When you're issued gear, it's your gear forevermore."
The Navy has never come looking for it, argued his lawyer, Sonny Stallings. "We're not blaming the Navy, but they surely have some culpability," Stallings said. "Handing out like candy these explosives, without having to account for it, is criminal in and of itself."
Stallings said combat veterans often took home mementos: "His toys happened to be explosives."
A Navy official said procedures for handling explosives and weapons weren't lax. Sailors have to sign for weapons and explosives, said Navy Lt. David Luckett, a Naval Special Warfare spokesman from Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach. Unused items must be returned.
"Naval Special Warfare employs very specific processes when it comes to weapons, ammunition and potentially dangerous equipment," Luckett said. "The process employs multiple checks and balances to maximize accountability for these items.
"This process also requires some personal integrity. This is another reason SEALs demand honor and integrity on and off the battlefield."
State charges against Tillman include four felony counts of manufacturing and possessing explosive materials and associated misdemeanor counts in violation of the Fire Prevention Code of Suffolk for possessing explosives.
When Tillman was arrested, police said additional charges could be filed once the cache was inventoried, but that's on hold, pending federal review of the case. During the Dec. 29 search, investigators also found a large quantity of syringes and possibly illegal steroids, but no illegal-steroid charges have been filed. Tillman said Friday that he had been off steroids for about a year.
Tillman enlisted in the Navy on June 20, 1991, according to service records, and was discharged July 17, 2001.
He attended Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in California in 1992 and was assigned to Little Creek's SEAL Team Two in October 1992. He told the judge he later transferred to Team Six.
Lucket said that the Navy couldn't say why Tillman's SEAL status was revoked but that "Naval Special Warfare can hold a Trident review board, which is held whenever a SEAL's actions may not hold up to Navy SEAL integrity and ethos."
For the past six years, Tillman has worked with a marine service business doing engine and fiberglass repair, as well as diving, he said.
He lives at his Suffolk home with his girlfriend and five children, including his two daughters, ages 8 and 10. His girlfriend and the grandfather of his children were in court to support him.
His girlfriend, angry with Tillman after a domestic dispute in Indiana over Christmas, tipped police off to Tillman's cache, according to federal documents. She told Moore on Friday that she wasn't pursuing domestic charges.
Staff writer Mike Holtzclaw contributed to this report.