Tacoma – Two men who schemed to fake a suicide so one could go AWOL from the U.S. Army were charged today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma with making a false distress message to the U.S. Coast Guard, announced U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran. DEVIN MITCHELL SCHMIDT, 20, a former soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and his cousin, RYEN ETHAN BELL, 21, of Bonney Lake, Washington will appear in U.S. District Court in Tacoma on June 4, 2020.
According to the criminal complaint, in December 2019, SCHMIDT schemed with BELL to fake his death by suicide so that SCHMIDT could end his military service and live in Mexico. The two men set their scheme in motion on December 18, 2019, when SCHMIDT filmed a fake suicide video saying goodbye to his family and friends. BELL reported to Port Townsend, Washington Police that his cousin had sent him the video indicating that he had committed suicide in Fort Warden Historical State Park. BELL and a friend drove to the park after he received the video via text message. BELL “found” SCHMIDT’s dog tags, unlocked phone and other belongings at the top of the cliff, 150 feet above the beach at Fort Warden.
As part of the scheme, BELL made the missing person report, knowing that his cousin was alive and in hiding. The report triggered a search first by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and on December 19, 2019, a massive Coast Guard search of the waters below the cliffs in dangerous weather conditions. The search, which lasted approximately 10 hours, cost in excess of $172,000.
The scheme fell apart at about 4:00 p.m. on December 19, 2019, when BELL’s mother revealed that information she received from law enforcement made her suspicious of the missing person report. BELL’s mother said that BELL had told her SCHMIDT was missing and suicidal some four hours before he had actually received the suicide video. Law enforcement examined BELL’s phone and Facebook messages and determined the two planned to meet up at a Port Townsend McDonalds the evening of December 19, 2019 to begin the next step of their plan to go to Mexico. Police were waiting and arrested both men.
SCHMIDT received an ‘Other than Honorable Discharge’ from the military on March 25, 2020.
Making a false distress call to the Coast Guard is punishable by up to six years confinement, three years of supervised release, up to $100,000 in civil penalties and up to $250,000 in fines, and financial liability for all costs incurred by the Coast Guard for the life-saving efforts.
The case is being investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS), with assistance from the Port Townsend Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Hillary Stuart.