TAMPA — Stephanie McCloskey is a single mother living in Clearwater who once worked at a fast-food restaurant and quit high school before getting a GED.
But McCloskey helped commit what federal prosecutors call one of the most significant schemes they have ever investigated involving the sale of counterfeit computer components to the U.S. military, defense contractors and high-tech industry.
McCloskey, 39, was sentenced Tuesday to 38 months in prison by a federal judge in Washington, D.C., for helping sell counterfeit integrated circuits as manager of VisionTech Components, a Clearwater electronics company.
The case is the first-ever federal prosecution for trafficking in counterfeit integrated circuits, the U.S. Department of Justice says.
The devices were intended for use in everything from U.S. military planes, warships and missile systems to high-speed trains.
The parts endangered national security and could have led to loss of life, prosecutors said.
"McCloskey did her part to set a ticking time bomb of incalculable damage and harm to the U.S. military, U.S. service men and women, the government, all of the industries to which VisionTech sold goods and to consumers," federal prosecutors said in a sentencing memo to the judge.
"She has effectively helped to release a poison into the veins of interstate and international commerce," the memo said.
Integrated circuits control the flow of electricity in the systems in which they are incorporated. They are found in a vast range of electronics, from smart phones to the space shuttle.
For three years ending in 2009, VisionTech advertised trademarked micro-electronics on a company website, some of which were marked as "military grade," prosecutors said. In fact, the government said, the company obtained almost all of the counterfeits from China.
The scheme grossed $15.8 million, prosecutors say.
McCloskey routinely dealt with customers and knowingly defrauded them with her assurances that the circuits were legitimate.
The government said it knows of no instance in which a failure of the integrated circuits caused serious harm. But thousands of the devices are still in circulation and are impossible to track down, prosecutors told the court.
VisionTech sold hundreds of thousands of the circuits to more than 1,000 customers.
McCloskey, who pleaded guilty in November, cooperated with authorities in a case against their main target, VisionTech's owner, Shannon L. Wren.
But Wren, who was arrested in September 2010, died of an accidental drug overdose at his Clearwater home while awaiting trial.
Wren had previously been in drug rehab, court records show. In January, prosecutors filed a motion to revoke his pretrial release after he was caught using a homemade "prosthetic penis" to provide a clean urine sample.
But he died before a hearing to decide if he should be jailed pending trial.
Wren, a former drag racer, also owned Reborn Couture, a South Tampa retail store frequented by professional athletes.
Some contractors who unwittingly bought the counterfeits said they lost government business because of the scheme. The owner of one company, Pacific IC Source in California, told prosecutors that they were very distressed at the thought that someone could possibly have died because of counterfeit components.
Reach William R. Levesque at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3432.