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Friday, May 28, 2010

Derco Aerospace Employee Suspected of Illegal Sales to Venezuelan Air Force

An employee of Milwaukee-based defense contractor Derco Aerospace is suspected of illegally selling sensitive military equipment to the Venezuelan Air Force, according to a search warrant filed in federal court this week in Milwaukee.

According to the affidavit submitted in support of the search warrant, after the State Department prohibited the export of defense equipment and services to Venezuela in August of 2006, one of Derco's employees, Ronald Alexander Dobek (also known as Alexander Michael Rovegno), continued to sell military equipment to Venezuela through Derco and two of Dobek's own companies. The investigation revealed that Derco sold approximately $7,600,000 worth of merchandise, including parts for analog signal generators, waveform generators, noise analyzers, power supplies, and aerospace ground equipment to the Venezuelan Air Force in September of 2006 alone. In November of 2006, Dobek was named Derco's employee of the month for "producing almost $10,000,000 worth of exportable material for Venezuela, including $5,700,000 commercial avionic test bench."

In addition to being suspected of illegally selling military equipment, Dobek is also the subject to an investigation as to whether he might have lied in order to obtain the security clearance necessary for his job with Derco. According to the affidavit, Dobek served in the United States Air Force for 10 years where he worked primarily with F-16 systems. However, he was court-martialed in 2003 for failure to obey a lawful order, theft of a government computer, witness tampering, and signing a false document. He was dishonorably discharged after serving 18 months in Ft. Leavenworth. Such a record would ordinarily disqualify an individual from obtaining the security clearance required to perform a job such as that held by Dobek.

A far-reaching investigation involving the FBI, U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Department of Defense Criminal Investigative Service, which included the review of thousands of Dobek's emails, monitoring of his telephone activity, subpoenas to various businesses, reviews of Dobek's travels, witness interviews, and physical surveillance of Dobek, focused primarily upon Dobek's suspected efforts to sell military equipment related to F-16 fighter jets to the Venezuelan Air Force.

The investigation was sparked in the summer of 2007 when a confidential informant at an Oakland, California company notified the FBI that he was concerned that his employer was attempting to assist the Venezuelan Air Force obtain military technology. The informant suspected that his boss, Arlin Nierenberger, was working with Dobek to manufacture and export circuit boards used in F-16 flight simulators. When the informant expressed concern about the project to Nierenberger and the company CEO, both assured him that the circuit boards were going to Argentina. When the informant pointed out that Argentina did not have any F-16 flight simulators, they said that the circuit boards were going to Chile.

Nierenberger and Dobek maintained regular contact but after Nierenberger became concerned that someone was listening in on his telephone calls, Nierenberger emailed Dobek to state that he would have to "pass on any grey area activities." Despite Nierenberger's concern, Nierenberger and Dobek continued their relationship, including Nierenberger offering Dobek advice about how Dobek could distance himself from the project by using Nierenberger's separate sole-proprietorship or by setting up another entity as a pass-through for the transaction.

In October of 2007, following Dobek emailing Nierenberger instructing him to "watch the account" and stating that the "final discussion for the simulator" would occur soon, Nierenberger received $32,250 from a company in Venezuela. Nierenberger confirmed the receipt of these funds in an email to Dobek and stated that he would charge him a 1% fee for his services. Shortly thereafter, an official with the Venezuelan Air Force emailed Dobek to confirm that the $32,250 had been sent to the account Dobek indicated. Nierenberger then wired $31,230 to the bank account of one of Dobek's businesses.

About seven months later, Dobek received a package from Nierenberger. The following day, Dobek traveled to Venezuela. It is the belief of the FBI that Dobek received the circuit boards from Nierenberger and then hand-delivered them to the Venezuelan Air Force on his trip to Venezuela.

When returning to the United States from Norway, U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped Dobek and questioned him about his trips to Venezuela. He initially stated he had been to Venezuela to visit a girlfriend but eventually admitted that he had been to Venezuela for business and had provided services to the Venezuelan Air Force.

Subsequent to this, Dobek obtained a computer that is used to control most aspects of the flight and weapons system of the F-16, from a Florida company in August of 2008. The company notified the Defense Department after being concerned that Dobek would exporting the computer to Venezuela due to the fact that Dobek sent the Florida company an email attachment that read: "Venezuelan F-16 Requirements." The search warrant suggests that after Dobek received the computer, he sent it to a computer engineering company in Nevada so the company could modify the computer in a manner requested by the Venezuelan Air Force. After this company could not successfully modify the computer in the manner requested, Dobek and Nierenberger were unable to find another company to perform the work ,and therefore, the computer was returned to Dobek who then subsequently returned it to the company he purchased it from. But before it was returned to Dobek, the FBI intercepted the package and a search of the package revealed an F-16 flight computer which could have been made readily usable and was supposed to be in the custody of the Air Force at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.  

No person mentioned in this report has been formally charged with any crime related to this ongoing investigation. A violation of the State Department's ban on the exportation of military equipment to Venezuela carries a potential punishment of 10 years in prison and up to a $1,000,000 fine for each violation.

UPDATE: 

On August 1, 2012, a grand jury in the Southern District of New York returned an indictment charging Ronald Alexander Dobek, also known as Michael David Smith and Alexandre Velenti, with making a false statement in a passport application and unlawfully using another person's identity to commit a felony.

On December 11, 2012, a grand jury in the Eastern District of Wisconsin returned an indictment charging Ronald A. Dobek, also known as Alexander M. Rovegno, with two counts of unlawfully exporting defense articles to Venezuela. In each count, Dobek is alleged to have exported an F-16 canopy seal to Venezuela, with the first offense occurring in late-2007 and the second occurring a year later. He faces up to 10 years in prison on each count if convicted. 

In 2000, in a story reporting his uncle's deathbed confession to the murder of two teenage girls more than 40 years earlier, Ronald Dobek told a reporter from the Washington Post that he spent his childhood moving from state to state so his parents could pull off insurance fraud scams.  

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting. Any update on this story?

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  2. Anonymous3:53 PM

    I would really like to know how johnson's employees are being treated. It seems to me with his millions being spent on this campaign wouldn't his employees enjoy a nice little pay increase?

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  3. I realize this post is over a year old. Have you heard any follow up to the story?

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  4. As of August 2011, public electronic federal court records reveal no indication that any person named in this story has ever been charged with any federal crime. The author does not have any further information as to the status of this investigation. If any new information is learned, it will be posted here.

    ReplyDelete