Two Men Charged With Importing And Selling Counterfeit Airbags
CONTACT: Barbara Burns
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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced today that Raymond Whelan, 47, of Cheektowaga, NY and David Nichols, 66, an American citizen living in China, were charged by criminal complaint with entry of goods by means of false statement, trafficking in counterfeit goods, and conspiracy to traffick in counterfeit goods. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $2,000,000 fine.
“Those who traffick in counterfeit merchandise harm not only legitimate businesses but they potentially put the lives of consumers at grave risk,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul. “For this reason, we will continue to vigorously prosecute all violations pertaining to trademarks and consumer safety.”
“Counterfeit automotive safety components put the driving public at great risk,” said ICE-HIS Special Agent in Charge James C. Spero. “A counterfeit airbag has the potential to deploy and injure a vehicle’s occupants or worse, not deploy after a serious accident.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael DiGiacomo, who is handling the case, stated that according to the complaint, on August 20, 2015, American Honda Motors Co., Inc. (Honda) purchased an air bag for a Honda Accord for $395.00 from an eBay user known as Rayscarparts71. The business contact information contained on the shipping receipt and business card supplied by Rayscarparts71 indicated that the airbag was sold by Raymond Whelan, PEQ · Auto Parts, 125 Beale Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14225. The packaging of the airbag was not consistent with a genuine, properly packaged and shipped airbag sent from Honda.
• The airbag had a serial number, known by Honda to be counterfeit, affixed to the body of the airbag.
• The airbag had labelling that is not consistent with genuine Honda airbag labelling.
• The airbag had connectors that are not consistent with genuine Honda airbag connectors.
On October 26, 2015, Honda alerted ICE-HSI about the counterfeit airbags. On December 14, 2015, investigators purchased another airbag from from eBay user Rayscarparts71 for $295. Verification from Honda indicated that the airbag purchased on December 14, 2015 was in fact a counterfeit airbag not manufactured by Honda.
According to the complaint, between February 2015 and March 2016, the defendant sold 403 airbags for $156,057. The counterfeit airbags were from various automakers including Honda, Nissan, Toyota, Mazda, Acura, Subaru, and Hyundai.
On February 25, 2016, investigators executed a search warrant at 3149 Walden Avenue in Depew, NY (Whelan’s business) and 125 Beale Avenue in Cheektowaga, NY (Whelan’s home). They seized 31 airbags, airbag accessory/repair kit, four hard drives, an HP Tower computer, and HP Laptop and miscellaneous business documents. After consulting with the various manufacturers of the brand logos on the airbags, it was determined all 31 airbags were counterfeit.
A forensic examination of the computer and laptop seized revealed various email and Skype conversations between the two defendants. During one email exchange, Whelan wrote to Nichols “It's been a great month! We have sold 50 units totaling approximately 20K! Would like to place another order asap as we are quickly selling out of these.”
During another conversation over Skype, Whelan and Nichols discuss the fact that the airbags are being sent in pieces and require assembly. Whelan to Nichols: “I tried to put some together but will need some instruction on the correct process. These are life saving devices after all.” Whelan goes on to say “I have assembled one with their instruction and it just may work. I can 't see why it wouldn't but....I'm not an airbag expert.”
Raymond Whelan made an initial appearance this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder and was released. He is due back in court on November 1, 2016. David Nichols will make an initial appearance at a later date.
The complaint is the result of an investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James C. Spero and Customs and Border Protection, under the direction of Rose Hilmey, Acting Director of Field Operations.
The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.