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Search warrant for Conax raid focuses on parachute safety devices

TAMPA — A federal raid last week of a St. Petersburg defense contractor focused on products used in parachuting devices during emergency ejections and internal documents about their components, performance and inspection, according to a search warrant provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Authorities from half a dozen government agencies, including the Defense Criminal Investigative Service along with Naval and Air Force investigators, spent Wednesday executing the warrant at Conax Florida Corp. The three-building complex on 75th Street N reopened for business the next day.

Search warrant documents detail property to be seized, mostly relating to UWARS and SEAWARS — Universal Water Activated Release Systems and Sea Water Activated Release Systems.

Conax manufactures the water-activated parachute systems and life-vest inflation systems for the military. The company's clients have also included NASA.

Agents seizing property at Conax also sought information about manufacturing the MA-16, an inertia reel that a pilot or other military aircraft occupant uses as a safety device to attach to a parachute.

According to the search warrant, investigators were to seize "any and all MA-16s that contain or appear to contain broken teeth, sheared teeth and bent shafts. Any and all SEAWARS and/or UWARS that contain or appear to contain counterfeit/nonconforming resistors" or switches that were or appeared to be damaged."

Agents also sought to seize all documents, written or electronic, authorizing the substitution of used, counterfeit or commercial components in lieu of new parts that are required by more than a dozen federal agencies serving as clients.

Products created for the government have to follow specifications that are identified during the bidding process and then spelled out in a contract. If a contractor supplies a product that doesn't meet those requirements, it doesn't always trigger a raid. Sometimes, the government just alerts the seller and asks it to correct the problem before legal action is taken.

The scope of the federal investigation remains unclear, but the company says it's cooperating fully.

Conax, the official legal name of Cobham Life Support Systems, is a division of British defense firm Cobham.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Search warrant for Conax raid focuses on parachute safety devices 07/20/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 20, 2009 7:40pm]
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