Officials of a small machine shop in Perry have admitted they gave false documents to the U.S. Department of Defense regarding the quality of some Army tank parts.
The result could be a dangerous situation for some American servicemen, a federal investigator said late Tuesday.
Mechanical failures could occur in the suspension systems of some Army tanks if the parts made by the Pine Tavern Machine Inc., 45 Walker Road, were defective, according to defense officials.
"We have put out a safety alert on all the parts made by this contractor," said Michael L. Raggi, resident agent for the Defense Department Inspector General's office. "Lives could be at stake here. Some of the people who do this kind of work don't realize that."
Raggi said the specific charge against Pine Tavern involves false documentation on the testing of 9,000 spacer rings used in the suspension systems of Army tanks. The rings were sold for $78,000 this year to an Army depot in Anniston, Ala.
"A failure in one of these spacer rings could result in an accident, and injuries, if it affected a tank moving along at a pretty good clip," Raggi said.
Could any of the tanks rolling in "Operation Desert Shield" be equipped with questionable parts made by the firm?
"We don't think so, but we haven't gotten any information back on that yet," Raggi said. "We're trying to find out."
Officials could not immediately say what kinds of tanks the parts are used in.
Pine Tavern, a small manufacturing firm with only about five employees, has pleaded guilty to one felony charge of submitting false documents to the Defense Department, Raggi and U.S. Attorney Dennis C. Vacco announced.
Vacco said the company could face a fine up to $500,000 in the case.
Larry Sturm, identified by the government as president of Pine Tavern, had little to say over the telephone about the corporate guilty plea.
"We certified some parts. The government tested the parts. The government says they're not the way they are supposed to be. Now they're looking for restitution . . . We're not criminals here," Sturm said.
Sturm hung up after he was asked Tuesday why the company had pleaded guilty.
Raggi said the Defense Department's safety alert urges all branches of the military to double-check any parts made by the Wyoming County firm.
Besides the contract for making the tank spacer rings, Pine Tavern has about 30 other contracts to make small items for the Defense Department, Raggi said. The contracts range in value from about $700 to about $30,000.
According to Vacco, Pine Tavern filed reports falsely claiming that all of the steel spacer rings had been heat treated, as required by military contract.
"Quality deficiency reports were issued when the spacer rings were tested and found to be too soft," the prosecutor said.
"Pine Tavern manufactures parts used in various military applications, including tanks, helicopters, and A-10 aircraft, some of which have critical applications," Vacco added.