MIAMI - On April 7, two Davie, Fla., residents pleaded guilty for their participation in a massive procurement fraud scheme designed to defraud the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and the commercial aviation sector following a multiple federal agency investigation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Mariella Bianchi, 51, owner of The Airborne Group, a military and commercial aircraft parts supply company in Miami and Juan Beltran, 28, director of military sales at the Airborne Group, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit airplane parts fraud. They each face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison at their sentencing on July 7 before U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke.
Also charged and convicted in connection with this conspiracy were Julio Zerene, 49, owner of Zerene Aerospace Inc., John Falco, 56, owner of Falcon Group Inc., Jorge Cascante, 54, owner of CAS Honeycomb Corp., and Willie McCain, 53, owner of McCain Research Lab, all of Miami.
On Oct. 2, 2009, and Feb. 9, Zerene and Falcon, respectively, were sentenced to 37 months in prison. Cascante is scheduled to be sentenced on June 16 before U.S. District Court Judge Adalberto Jordan and McCain is scheduled to be sentenced on May 20 before Senior U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hurley. They each face a maximum statutory sentence of 10 years in prison.
These convictions are part of Operation Wingspan, a two-year investigation into the manufacture and sale of counterfeit military and commercial airplane parts. To date, the loss in Operation Wingspan is estimated at more than $5 million. In addition, this operation has resulted in the seizure of more than $150,000 and the revocation by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) of at least two FAA Repair Station Certificates.
Bianchi and Beltran bid and were awarded contracts to supply the U.S. Air Force with various aircraft parts, including the KC-135 or E-3 military aircraft. Once they were awarded a contract for the aircraft parts, Bianchi and Beltran contacted unauthorized local manufacturers, including Julio Zerene, to manufacture the parts, in violation of the specific contract specifications that required either new surplus parts or parts that had been manufactured by Boeing or other approved sources. Once the parts had been illegally manufactured, Bianchi and Beltran would complete false certificates of conformance, also known as a "Parts or Material Certification Form" or "ATA 106" forms, and other paperwork, including packing slips and invoices, all falsely representing either the condition or manufacturer of the parts. Bianchi and Beltran then forwarded the completed fraudulent paperwork and the counterfeit parts to the U.S. Air Force for use in military aircraft.
Julio Zerene illegally manufactured aviation aircraft skins, wings, and control surfaces for various aircrafts including the U.S. military version of the Boeing 707/320 commercial airframe (KC-135), the U.S. Air Force's E-3 Sentry and Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) airplanes, by using improper materials, uncalibrated machinery, and without the proper technical schematics and drawings. Zerene sold these parts to various airplane parts brokers, including John Falco and Mariella Bianchi and Juan Beltran. They would, in turn, sell and ship these counterfeit aircraft parts to the U.S. Air Force and to others in the commercial aviation industry, creating false documents to misrepresent the origin and authenticity of the counterfeit parts.
Jorge Cascante, the owner and operator of CAS Honeycomb, an FAA certificated Repair Station, was convicted for his role as an intermediary between illegal airplane parts manufacturers, like Julio Zerene, and local brokers, including Falcon Aviation Group and The Airborne Group. Cascante also completed paperwork that falsely certified the authenticity of the counterfeit parts. Willie McCain, owner of McCain Research Labs, also an FAA certificated Repair Station, was convicted for his role in providing FAA-8130s that falsely certified the airworthiness of the counterfeit parts, which were neither within his rating nor on his capabilities list.
The investigation was conducted by ICE's Office of Investigations in Miami, the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General (DOT OIG) Miami Field Office, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 802 (AFOSI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), Southeast Field Office with the valuable assistance of the Federal Aviation Administration.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Anton.