Bogus battery scheme reached Norfolk-based carrier Eisenhower

A California businessman is headed to prison after being convicted of selling nearly 80,000 substandard batteries to the Defense Department for use on Navy ships, including the Norfolk-based aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Didier De Nier, 64, a Simi Valley resident who fled the U.S. more than two years ago, was found guilty in April in federal court of five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, according to a news release from Stephanie Yonekura, acting U.S. attorney for the central district of California.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee sentenced De Nier to 87 months in prison and ordered him to pay more than $2.7 million in restitution, most of it to the Defense Department.

Sailors relied on the batteries to supply backup power on aircraft carriers, minesweepers and ballistic submarines, Yonekura said. A full list of ships was not available from her office, but spokesman Thom Mrozek said the Eisenhower was one of the ships that received them.

The batteries have since been removed from the military supply chain, he said.

The charges stem from a probe from multiple federal agencies, focusing on De Nier, his ex-wife and a company known as Powerline, which also did business as Birdman Distribution. Prosecutors said De Nier told his employees to put counterfeit labels on the batteries that depicted approved manufacturers.

"Powerline employees also used chemicals to remove 'Made in China' markings from the counterfeit batteries and prepared doctored invoices, packing slips and other paperwork," according to the news release.

De Nier used proceeds from the scheme to buy a yacht, pay a mortgage on his home and travel to the Caribbean and French Riviera.

Federal agents searched Powerline's officers in July 2012, and De Nier fled a short time later to live aboard his yacht near the Caribbean island of St. Martin, a French territory. Federal agents arrested him in October 2013 after he sailed to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

His ex-wife, Lisa De Nier, served as Powerline's vice president of sales, has already pleaded guilty in this case and faces up to 10 years in prison when she is sentenced later this year, Yonekura said.

This isn't the first time that defense contractors using substandard parts from China have been detected in the defense supply chain.

In 2012, a Senate Armed Services Committee analysis said bogus electronic parts from China infiltrated critical U.S. defense systems and equipment, including Navy helicopters and a commonly used Air Force cargo aircraft.

Among the problems that investigators cited: repair costs driven into the millions after fake components had been installed; supply chains so complex that contractors knew little about the original source of the parts; and the possibility of a missile failure due to a fake computer chip.

Various military aircraft were named in the report..

Contact Lessig by telephone at 757-247-7821.

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