Pair convicted in secret $1.6 M Navy silencer deal

AP News
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Posted: Oct 30, 2014 12:33 PM

McLEAN, Va. (AP) — A senior Navy intelligence official and a California race-car mechanic were convicted in federal court for their roles in pushing through a secret Navy contract to build hundreds of untraceable rifle silencers for an unspecified, classified program.

Navy civilian Lee Hall of Sterling was convicted Wednesday of conspiracy and theft of government money for steering the nearly $2 million no-bid contract to his boss' brother, Mark Landersman of Temecula, California. Landersman was convicted of a single conspiracy count.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Landersman received information off the Internet from his brother on how to make silencers and had costs of only $10,000, though defense lawyers presented testimony that Landersman spent thousands of hours in prior years working on prototypes for a more durable silencer.

Prosecutors say the silencers didn't work and in some cases amplified sound, and in closing arguments described them as worthless "scrap metal." Defense lawyers said the silencers flunked testing because they hadn't been cleaned before use.

Defense attorneys said the deal was legitimate and had been authorized. Hall's lawyers said that in the convoluted world of classified defense contracts, the defendants were doing their best to fill an immediate need. The defense suggested that the silencers couldn't be bought on the open market because of the secretive nature of the program, and that having regular silencers with serial numbers that could be traced back to U.S. manufacturers would have defeated the purpose.

It was never exactly clear why Hall said he wanted the silencers.

According to court documents, Hall at one point told others that the silencers were needed for Seal Team Six, the elite unit that killed Osama bin Laden. But the Seals said they never ordered the silencers. Evidence in the trial remains classified, and in open court, witnesses and lawyers were coached only to speak of "The Program," an unspecified operation that apparently had a need for untraceable silencers. Prosecutors concede The Program existed and had a legitimate need for silencers, but dispute that the silencers built by Landersman were intended to fill that need.

Prosecutors said the only true purpose for the deal was to divert money to Landersman. Hall and his boss in the Navy secretariat, David Landersman, obtained $2 million in unspent money at the end of the 2012 fiscal year, saying they wanted the money to conduct intelligence studies. Within days of obtaining the money, they were preparing to divert the money to the silencer deal, according to trial testimony.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria issued her verdicts Wednesday after two separate bench trials the last two weeks. Throughout the trial and in pretrial hearings, she had expressed doubts about parts of the government's case and issued sanctions after ruling that that prosecutors had failed to turn over potentially beneficial evidence to the defense in a timely manner.

Brinkema will issue a written ruling outlining her rationale for the conviction in coming weeks.

Landersman's lawyer, John Zwerling, said Thursday he was disappointed by the verdict and anxiously awaiting the judge's written ruling to decide what to do next.

Hall's lawyer, Danny Onorato, declined comment Thursday on whether he would appeal.

Both are scheduled for sentencing on Jan. 30.