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Press Release

Philadelphia Auto-Mechanic Pleads Guilty to Trafficking Hazardous Automobile Airbags from China

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jacqueline Romero announced that Emiliano Rodriguez, 45, a citizen of the Dominican Republic residing in Philadelphia, PA pleaded guilty to one count of trafficking in counterfeit goods, and two counts of causing the delivery of hazardous materials by air carrier in connection with a scheme to utilize counterfeit goods in used vehicles, which he then resold to unsuspecting customers.

From at least in or about January 2017 through on or about October 30, 2019, defendant Rodriguez, an auto mechanic, fraudulently imported airbags from China and installed these defective parts in salvaged autos which were then reintroduced to the consumer market. China has been identified as the largest exporter of counterfeit commodities, including counterfeit airbags. Persons involved in the trade of counterfeit airbags engage in this practice in an effort to increase profits from their sales by decreasing the costs of the parts used to replace the original items. Unsuspecting motorists purchase remanufactured vehicles unaware of the history or the substandard/defective part(s) used in the vehicle reconstruction. Once purchased and driven on public roads, the vehicles expose the driver, passengers and general public to the hazards associated with vehicle malfunctions due to the use of substandard parts. Some of these malfunctions may include tires prone to blow-outs, brakes unable to withstand the high temperatures associated with highway driving speeds, and airbags incapable of timely inflation or over-inflation that result in the death or serious injury of the driver or others exposed to the defective airbag. In this case, federal agents recovered more than 450 counterfeit airbags and parts from Rodriguez’s residence and business.

"Counterfeit airbags are playing Russian roulette with the lives of unsuspecting consumers," said U.S. Attorney Romero. "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that counterfeits have consistently been shown to malfunction. Emiliano Rodriguez peddled these airbags for profit, knowing lives would be at risk. Consumers must also be aware of the threat. Our office will continue to work with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to keep these dangerous counterfeit products from being imported."

“Emiliano Rodriguez’s plea should serve as a potent warning that disreputable actors could circumvent our laws and safety protocols by using international commerce to obtain and install faulty, unsafe, and counterfeit equipment in order to make a profit,” said Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Philadelphia William S. Walker. “In all commercial transactions, we urge consumers to conduct their own research and only purchase from reputable dealers who have a verifiable track record of legal performance. The consequences of not doing so can be dire, including monetary losses or even the loss of life or limb.”

“Today’s announcement is a sober reminder that the safety of the public is put at grave risk when counterfeit airbags are illegally transported by air and later introduced into the market and cars traveling on our roads,” said Christopher A. Scharf, Special Agent in Charge, Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, Northeastern Region. “As we continue working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners, we also encourage the public to review resources available at” 

The defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, three years of supervised release, fines of $50,000, and a $200 special assessment. As a non-U.S. citizen, he also faces deportation.

The case was investigated by the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations and the Department of Transportation, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney M. Beth Leahy.

An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Updated February 9, 2023

Health Care Fraud