River Ridge Man And His Company Charged In Superseding Indictment With Conspiring To Manufacture And Sell Counterfeit Mercedes-benz Diagnostic Equipment Worth Over $15,000,000
U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite announced that RAINER WITTICH, age 65, of River Ridge, Louisiana, and the company he owns, THE BRINSON COMPANY, of Harahan, Louisiana, were charged yesterday in a nine-count superseding indictment by a federal grand jury for their role in creating and selling fake Mercedes-Benz diagnostic equipment containing proprietary software without authorization.
According to the Indictment, WITTICH owned THE BRINSON COMPANY, which sold replacement parts and diagnostic equipment for Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Beginning in about 2001, WITTICH and THE BRINSON COMPANY began developing, manufacturing, and selling fake versions of the Mercedes-Benz Star Diagnostic System (SDS), a hand-held computer containing proprietary, confidential software, with the assistance of a Durham, North Carolina-based company. They did so by obtaining Mercedes-Benz software without authorization, applying “cracks and fixes” to make the software work on everyday laptop computers, and making hundreds of copies of the software product. WITTICH and others then worked to override Mercedes-Benz security systems by purchasing false license keys from a United Kingdom-based individual that, combined with other modifications, would “unlock” the SDS software and make it operable on the counterfeit devices. When Mercedes-Benz notified the United Kingdom-based individual that his conduct was in violation of the law, WITTICH and others discussed plans to have him “go underground and off the radar” and continue to provide assistance and support in the production of fake SDS.
Beginning in about 2005, WITTICH entered into a conspiracy with a California-based company to manufacture and sell the SDS. On some occasions, when one of the fake SDS units sold by the North Carolina or California companies would break, WITTICH and BRINSON would repair them and return them to the customers.
Genuine SDS diagnostic devices are used by mechanics to identify problems with and assure the safety of motor vehicles employing electronic control systems; the fraudulent or unauthorized sale of such units increases the risk of Mercedes-Benz automobiles being stolen or suffering from misdiagnosed or undiagnosed problems. Genuine SDS sold for up to $22,000 each, while WITTICH’S fake SDS sold for between $5,000 and $11,000. In total, WITTICH and BRINSON sold not fewer than 700 counterfeit SDS, and the California-based company sold at least 95 devices.
The superseding indictment added five new counts, including conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and traffic in counterfeit labels and conspiracy to commit international money laundering.
The trial is currently scheduled to begin on November 3, 2014. If convicted, WITTICH faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 60 years, followed by up to 3 years of supervised release, and fine of up to $250,000. BRINSON faces up to a $500,000 fine.
U.S. Attorney Polite reiterated that the Superseding Indictment is merely a charge and that the guilt of the defendant must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
U.S. Attorney Polite praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in investigating this matter. Assistant United States Attorney Jordan Ginsberg and United States Department of Justice Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section Senior Counsel Evan Williams are in charge of the prosecution.