TAMPA — A Pinellas businessman accused of selling counterfeit microchips intended for U.S. military planes, warships and missiles did not know they were potentially dangerous Chinese knockoffs, his attorney told a federal judge Thursday.
At a bail hearing in U.S. District Court, Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Jenkins still refused a request from attorneys for Shannon L. Wren, 42, to release him on a "signature bond," which means he would be freed without posting any property or cash as collateral.
Jenkins, who continued the hearing until Monday, said she was inclined to set $250,000 bail using property as collateral. His family is working on meeting that requirement, attorneys said.
"He's obviously led a very lavish lifestyle," Jenkins said, noting the numerous high-end cars and motorcycles owned by Wren. "Given this apparent lifestyle, the possibility … that he would have assets to relocate … is not merely fanciful."
Wren, owner of VisionTech Components in Clearwater, was indicted by a Washington, D.C., grand jury last week along with business manager Stephanie A. McCloskey, 38, of Clearwater on 10 counts that included conspiracy, trafficking in counterfeit goods and mail fraud.
McCloskey is free on $25,000 bail.
Jeff Brown, an attorney representing Wren, said the federal government had seized most of Wren's assets, from numerous automobiles and motorcycles to his many properties, making the posting of property for bail difficult.
Brown said his client had no idea the chips were sophisticated fakes and has cooperated with authorities. Wren was simply a middleman who bought the chips from sources overseas, reselling them in the United States, Brown said.
"These counterfeits are almost indistinguishable from the real thing," Brown said.
While prosecutors have said the fake equipment posed a security threat, the indictment does not say that any were ever installed on military hardware.
Prosecutor Jeff Downing said Wren owned about $2.4 million in Pinellas property. But with loans, liens and other encumbrances on the 10 pieces of property, he owes $3 million on it.
Downing also said the government cannot yet account for $500,000 in cash withdrawn from an account Wren controlled and might use to flee.
The hearing shed no light on an apparent discrepancy in the federal indictment charging Wren, of Treasure Island, and McCloskey. The indictment ties the defendants to deals involving 60,000 counterfeit chips valued at about $426,000.
But the indictment also said the company had sold a total of $15.8 million in counterfeit products, yet does not specifically detail those sales.
How the alleged conspiracy was discovered also is unclear. Prosecutors in Washington, where the case will be tried, have declined to comment.
William R. Levesque can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3432.