The former owner of a Simi Valley-based battery distributor was sentenced this week to more than seven years in prison for fraudulently selling more than $2.6 million in knock-offs to the U.S. Defense Department.
Didier De Nier, 64, owned Powerline Inc., which also did business as Birdman Distribution Corp. in Simi Valley. From 2004 to 2011, the company sold more than 80,000 batteries and assemblies to the Navy for use as emergency back-up power aboard aircraft carriers, minesweepers and submarines.
According to prosecutors, the company didn’t source its materials from approved subcontractors, and De Nier instructed his employees how to disguise the bogus nature of the batteries by affixing counterfeit labels falsely identifying them as originating from approved manufacturers. Employees also used chemicals to remove “Made in China” markings from the counterfeit batteries and prepared false invoices, packing slips and other paperwork.
De Nier lived in Simi Valley until two years ago, when he fled the country shortly after federal agents searched Powerline’s offices. He lived aboard his yacht near the Caribbean island of St. Martin, a French territory. In October 2013, federal agents arrested De Nier, a dual French-U.S. citizen, after he had sailed to the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was sentenced Wednesday in Los Angeles federal court.
De Nier’s ex-wife, Lisa De Nier, who served as Powerline’s vice president of sales, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the government. She faces up to 10 years in prison when she is sentenced later this year.
“As this sentence makes clear, military procurement fraud is a serious crime, with repercussions that extend far beyond the financial losses to the Department of Defense and U.S. taxpayers,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in Los Angeles, in a statement. “This defendant put the safety and readiness of our nation’s warfighters at risk merely to line his own pockets.”
In April, a federal jury found De Nier guilty of five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. In addition to the prison term, the U.S. District Court judge ordered him to pay more than $2.7 million in restitution.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Defense Logistics Agency and the Defense Contract Audit Agency. It is the first case prosecuted under the 2011 Defense Authorization Act.