DOJ reaches settlement with St. Pete defense contractor - WFLA News Channel 8

DOJ reaches settlement with St. Pete defense contractor

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ST PETERSBURG, FL (WFLA) -

The Department of Justice has reached a settlement in a civil case with Conax Florida.

The agreement announced Thursday requires the British-owned defense contractor to pay $2million  in fines, deliver $2.4 million worth of  parts to the government and pay $810,000 to two former employees of the company.

Federal agents from every branch of the military and NASA raided the St. Petersburg defense plant on July 15, 2009. At they time they wouldn't say what they were after.

(Related story:  Federal agents' raid baffles Conax)

But an 8 On Your Side Investigation later determined the company--also known as Cobham--was under investigation for using counterfeit or defective parts in safety systems designed to save the lives of military pilots and astronauts during emergencies.

"The settlement of the Conax case reflects our commitment to hold defense contractors accountable for delivering exactly what they are paid to deliver," said Carter Stewart, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio in a statement released Thursday.

Two former employees of Conax, Mark Hansson and Steven Schummer, brought the lawsuit against Conax under the False Claims Act which allows whistleblowers to pursue legal remedies against companies on behalf of the government.

Neither man could be reached for comment.

(Related story: Contractor raided by Feds expects to reopen Thursday)

Attorney Douglas DeVlaming flies fighter combat missions during the Vietnam conflict and is familiar with the safety systems in question in the Conax case.

DeVlaming said one of his fellow pilots died after an ejection in the North Atlantic in 1982 when his parachute failed to disconnect. "I lost a good friend," said DeVlaming.

Now, there are safety systems designed to separate parachutes on contact with saltwater and it was one of those devices that was under investigation by the defense department. The other device under investigation was an inertia reel that keeps pilots safety in their seats during crashes and ejections.

(Related story:  St. Pete defense contractor issues microchip alert)

"If that doesn't work properly you're going to be severely injured and death could occur," said DeVlaming.

"Throughout the course of the investigation, the company maintained that its products posed no safety concerns, a position supported by the Government's technical experts after thorough testing," said Cobham spokesman Greg Caires.

Federal investigators did not pursue charges after the criminal investigation and the civil suit essentially ends the case. DeVlaming said its regrettable that no one was held accountable under the agreement which withholds any claim of liability and doesn't assign any blame.

The company's slogan is "the most important thing we build is trust."

"It make some angry that someone would put a dollar price on someone's life," said DeVlaming. "I'm just more upset that more wasn't done in this matter."

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