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Two Plead Guilty in Sale of Bogus Aircraft Parts

May 10, 1994|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two aircraft parts brokers and a Fontana company have pleaded guilty in connection with a scheme to sell fake engine parts for small private jets, federal authorities said Monday.

The brokers--executives at Ontario Air Parts in Fontana--pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration and private aircraft companies by selling cheap, counterfeit jet engine liners from Taiwan.

Officials said James A. Fishback Sr., 60, and Earlene C. Christenson, 45, also acknowledged buying from now-defunct Dixon Aircraft Components worn military engine liners and illegally selling them for use on civilian jets.

In a plea bargain entered in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, prosecutors said they will recommend sentences of six months in jail and a $250,000 fine for each defendant and a $250,000 fine against the company, which is owned by Fishback.

Fishback's attorney, Richard Sherman of Los Angeles, said the company is cooperating with the government investigation. "There have been some things that have not been properly handled," Sherman said. "They are not dangerous or dishonest people."

The brokers sold to six companies about 60 substandard engine liners for small jets capable of carrying up to 20 passengers, prosecutors said. Nearly all the liners have now been recalled.

"This case is serious because (defendants) circumvented the FAA scheme of regulation, which is designed to ensure that all civilian aircraft parts are up to specifications," said George B. Newhouse, an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. "There is a huge risk that these parts may fail in flight."

The lack of federal safety checks was particularly significant in this case because engine liners are so important to a jet's operation, authorities said. The liners separate the extreme heat of fuel combustion from an engine's moving parts.

Although no airline crashes have been attributed to counterfeit parts in this country, the use of unapproved parts is seen by experts as a significant problem worldwide.

An aging Norwegian charter plane crashed in 1989 in part because of unsanctioned parts, said Howard Aylesworth of the Aerospace Industries Assn. The crash killed 55 people.

In the United States, six small general aviation planes have crashed because of the failure of parts not approved by the FAA, he said.

"All airplanes are manufactured to very, very high tolerances of safety," Aylesworth said. "But unapproved parts compromise that margin of safety. They create an unknown safety condition."

However, FAA spokesman Joe Doubleday said he is unaware of the general aviation crashes cited by Aylesworth. He said counterfeit parts are a concern but have not proved to be a safety hazard, because so many backups are built into jet aircraft systems.

Investigators have found no crashes or equipment failure linked to parts sold by the brokers or refurbished by Dixon Aircraft, Newhouse said.

Monday's convictions bring to 62 the number of such cases successfully prosecuted by federal authorities during the last two years, said Dennis Dutch, a top investigator at the Department of Transportation.

Counterfeit parts were his office's top priority for the last two fiscal years because of a surge in complaints in 1991, Dutch said. Inquiries have resulted in 92 indictments nationwide. About 150 more cases remain active, he said.

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