By Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel
NEWYORK (Reuters) – Federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges accusing a New York company of exposing the U.S. government and private customers to security risks by illegally importing and selling surveillance and security equipment from China.
The charges against Aventura Technologies Inc, which is based in Commack, New York, and seven current and former employees were made public on Thursday in the federal court in Brooklyn. Six of the people have been arrested, including Jack Cabasso, the man accused of leading the scheme.
Prosecutors said the defendants falsely told customers that Aventura’s products were made in the United States rather than imported, mainly from China, in a scheme that ran from 2006 until this month. Some of those products carried known cybersecurity risks, according to prosecutors.
The company’s largest customers are U.S. government agencies including the Army, Navy and Air Force, though it also sold to private companies, making about $88 million since 2010, prosecutors said.
“Aventura not only defrauded its customers, but also exposed them to serious known cybersecurity risks,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said at a news conference in Brooklyn.
Cabasso and the other people who were arrested were expected to be arraigned in Brooklyn on Thursday. Their lawyers could not immediately be identified. Aventura did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Founded in 1999, Aventura describes itself on its website as a “true ‘single-source’ manufacturer” providing security hardware, software and peripheral products to government, military and enterprise customers.
According to the complaint, Aventura sometimes sold Chinese imports with false “Made in the U.S.A.” labels already affixed or displayed on packaging.
Donoghue said the government began investigating the alleged scheme after a member of an Air Force security unit saw an image of a Chinese security service badge in software for one device.
Prosecutors said Aventura reported having sold $20.7 million of security equipment to the U.S. government through the end of 2018 via U.S. General Services Administration contracts.
They also accused Aventura of misrepresenting itself as a “woman-owned small business” in order to win government contracts set aside for such businesses, falsely listing Cabasso’s wife, Frances Cabasso, as the company’s owner and chief executive. She is also a defendant.
The complaint included communications that, according to prosecutors, show the defendants knew about the illegal imports.
It quoted an instant message from the defendant Eduard Matulik, a director of international sales, to a colleague that ‘im going to china because I need to know what we are selling and have to source a bunch of stuff,” and that “jack doesn’t have time and we don’t know what we are selling anymore.”
Prosecutors are seeking to have Jack Cabasso jailed without bail, saying his wealth, overseas connections and “lengthy criminal history,” including a conviction for tampering with a jury in an earlier fraud case against him, point to a high risk that he will flee the country. In court papers, they said they have seized $3 million and a luxury yacht from him, but believe he has other assets offshore.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson and Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)