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Vista man gets jail time for selling bad bolts to military

A Vista aircraft employee who sold the military defective bolts considered essential for the safe operation of Sikorsky CH-53E helicopters was sentenced Monday to 24 months in federal custody.

Joel H. Potter, 57, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to fraud involving aircraft parts and admitted that his crime resulted in a risk of death or serious injury to military personnel, including troops in war zones.

According to court records, Potter was employed by Mackenzie Aircraft Parts Inc. from 2004 to 2008 and during that time was the employee primarily responsible for the sale of aircraft parts to Science Applications International Corp.

The sales to SAIC included “spot buys” where Mackenzie obtained and sold aircraft parts to SAIC, which had a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to provide aircraft parts when needed, said prosecutor Steven E. Stone.

The contract required “new manufactured” parts and surplus parts were not allowed, the prosecutor said.

According to Stone, the defendant intentionally sold at least 16,000 non-compliant aircraft parts to SAIC on behalf on Mackenzie on more than 80 occasions in response to bids awarded to by SAIC to Mackenzie.

Specifically, Potter admitted that he submitted a bid to provide 408 bolts manufactured by an approved supplier for installation and use on Sikorsky CH-53E helicopters that were in widespread, active use by the military around the world, the prosecutor said.

The DOD considered the 8-inch bolts essential for the safe operation of the helicopters since they attach the tail rotor blades to the helicopters, Stone said.

The defendant fraudulently provided bolts from a non-approved manufacturer instead of supplying bolts from the specified and approved manufacturer, according to the prosecutor.

The DOD discovered the bolts were non-compliant and defective only after the head of one bolt broke off as it was being installed onto a helicopter, Stone said.

An alert was sent out worldwide to the Navy and Marine Corps and they took corrective actions and removed the bolts from service, according to the prosecutor.