(Reuters) - The former owner of a Los Angeles-area battery distributor has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison for selling over $2.7 million in "knock-off" emergency batteries used on numerous U.S. Navy vessels, officials said on Thursday.
Didier De Nier, a dual French-U.S. citizen who fled Simi Valley for the Caribbean island of St. Martin nearly two years ago with federal agents on his trail, was found guilty in February of wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States through his company, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement.
"This defendant put the safety and readiness of our nation's warfighters at risk merely to line his own pockets," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE's Homeland Security Investigations.
From 2004 to 2011, De Nier's Powerline, Inc sold more than 80,000 batteries and battery assemblies to the Department of Defense, which the Navy installed as emergency backup power aboard nuclear aircraft carriers, minesweepers and ballistic submarines, the statement said.
De Nier, 64, told his employees how to disguise the bogus batteries using counterfeit labels that falsely identified them as originating from approved manufacturers, the statement said.
Powerline employees also used chemicals to remove 'Made in China' markings from the counterfeit batteries and prepared doctored invoices, packing slips and fake instructional guides, ICE said.
In addition to 87 months in prison, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered De Nier on Wednesday to pay back more than $2.7 million, the statement said.
De Nier's former wife, Lisa De Nier, Powerline's longtime vice president of sales, has pleaded guilty in the case to conspiracy to defraud the government and faces up to 10 years in prison at her sentencing later this year.
Shortly after federal agents raided Powerline's office in 2012, De Nier fled the United States to live aboard a yacht near St. Martin, a French territory, ICE said.
In October 2013, U.S. agents arrested him after he sailed to the U.S. Virgin Islands, ICE said.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)