U.S. District Judge David Sam ruled that it would be preposterous to allow two military policemen who stole three jet engines from Hill Air Force Base to set the value of the engines when their sentences are calculated.

Airman 1st Class Brian David Roth, Chesterland, Ohio, and Senior Airman Danny J. Stroud, Newton, Kansas, who confessed they stole and sold three F-16 jet engines from Hill Air Force Base are to be sentenced Jan. 26.They were arrested as part of "Operation Punchout," a sting in which FBI agents set up a fake military surplus store in Roy and bought everything from combat helmets and land mines to jet engines stolen from Hill.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, the value of the engines is one of the factors that will be used to calculate the potential range of sentences. Lawyers for Stroud and Roth argued that the engines' value should be figured as the same amount that agents said they'd pay for them, $300,000.

"Defendants additionally argue that no loss occurred by the government since agents for the government were the ones to whom the defendants agreed to sell the engines," Sam wrote.

"Accordingly, they argue that the sentencing should be based on damage to the engines. Such a result would effectively do away with the value of undercover work in one fell swoop.

"Thieves would be able to avoid punishment, or at most suffer minimal punishment based on the fact that the government did not truly lose merchandise."

Instead of the $300,000 that agents were willing to pay for the three 16-foot, 3,500-pound engines, the replacement cost is actually $9.9 million, Sam wrote.

And that is the amount he will use in calculating the sentences.

"This court feels that it would be inequitable to allow those responsible for the loss to determine the value of the loss by agreeing to sell stolen merchandise for substantially less than its replacement cost," Sam ruled.