Aicraft component maker did not use cleanrooms, indictment alleges

Coupling manufacturer faces 50 counts fraud

By Mark A. DeSorbo

FRESNO, CA-The president of a Mojave, CA-based maker of hoses and couplings used in military planes and other aircraft is awaiting trial on charges of illegally producing the components without employing contamination control and falsifying certification that indicated manufacturing was conducted to federal specifications.

Dale C. Henson, 47, chief executive and majority shareholder of Western Coupling Corp., was arrested on July 25, and then arraigned and released on his own recognizance on July 26. A 50-count indictment accuses him of mail fraud and shipping components-some of which are used in liquid oxygen systems that certain pilots use to breathe-through interstate commerce, says Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan B. Conklin.

“He was also not following military and commercial standards, including not using a cleanroom to manufacture the hoses,” says Conklin, who declined to elaborate on what specific military and commercial standards Henson violated.

According to the indictment, Henson's company illegally produced “many hoses and couplings that he knew would be used with liquid oxygen and related equipment.” Conklin also says Henson allegedly provided certifications for hoses and couplings supplied to his customers that indicated the components were “newly manufactured to Military Standard Specification” and were “clean for oxygen.”

“Such statements were false because Western Coupling Corp. did not have the facilities to meet either military or commercial standards used in the manufacture of liquid oxygen hoses and couplings,” the indictment says. It also indicates that military manufacturing specifications require that companies maintain a cleanroom and that workers wear protective clothing to prevent the contamination of the hoses and couplings.

“When continuing to provide hoses and related equipment that Henson, by and through Western Coupling, knew would be used on liquid oxygen related equipment, Henson failed to maintain a cleanroom and failed to require individuals, working on liquid oxygen hoses and related equipment, to wear protective clothing to prevent contamination,” the indictment says.

Henson, through his company, also allegedly provided vouchers and certifications that led customers to believe he was qualified to produce the hoses.

The crimes are punishable by up to $10 million per count for the corporation and up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for Henson.

In a telephone interview with CleanRooms, however, Henson says he does not want or need a cleanroom, adding that Western Coupling remains in compliance with cleanliness protocols by employing Military Standard 1359 and contracting National Technical Services (Los Angeles) to test and perform final cleaning and packaging of the components. Specifically, MIL-STD 1359, revision B, ensures that prescribed cleaning agents remove any combustibles from the components that could ignite and cause a fire.

Western's hoses and couplings, however, are not typically used in commercial or military aircraft, Henson says.

“We cater to the smaller plane manufacturers. The products we sell are meant for overhaul, ground support and the aftermarket. We assemble them, fail-test them with nitrogen and with distilled water,” Henson says. “Then, we send them out to be cleaned and packaged. They come back to us and then we ship them. Sometimes, we have no idea where these things are going or how they are being used.”

Henson says this isn't the first time he's had a run-in with the federal government. In fact, he claims this is just one instance of a few that have occurred over the better part of three years.

“They sent 12 agents in here two and a half years ago, looking for whatever,” he says of the raid that Conklin declined to comment on. “There were agents from the Office of Inspector General, the Department of Transportation and NASA. They had a search warrant, but they didn't take anything.”

Specific reasons for the investigations into Western Coupling's business practices have never been revealed to him, Henson says.

“They haven't given us a disclosure,” he says. “This is totally different from a state investigation. In a federal investigation, they don't have to tell you anything. They don't even have to close the case. They can keep it open for as long as they'd like, but once they close it, anything they did wrong, they'll be subject to lawsuits.”

Henson says he and his company have tried for more than a year to get answers and work with federal agents toward a resolution to no avail.

“A year and half later, we forced a meeting with them to see what the problem was and see what they were concerned about,” he adds. “Now, they say it is mail fraud even though we said we were not sending anything out unless it was cleaned.”

Henson says he and the company have been fulfilling every request that is being made, despite losing a great deal of business due to the investigation.

“They call up our customers and tell them they're investigating us. We have never, ever, ever tried to defraud anyone,” Henson says. “It's unbelievable. If we were doing something that was so unsafe, why have they let us go on for the last two and half years?”

Although it has been a frustrating endeavor for the family business, Henson adds, “One way or the other, we'll come to a resolution.”


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