Stolen US military gear in NZ

September 1st, 2007  

Topic: Stolen US military gear in NZ

Some New Zealand rescue helicopters are believed to be using equipment stolen from the American military.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) wrote to chopper firms on Friday asking for details of night-vision goggles they've bought after reports from the United States that some equipment has been stolen from the military and sold on internet auction site eBay.
CAA's rotary wing manager John Fogden believes about 12 pairs of the stolen goggles may be in use here.
The news is likely to embarrass the government. Prime Minister Helen Clark had helped chopper operators get permission to legally import the goggles, worth $16,000 apiece.
The request follows charges laid in Florida last week against a US airman, Leonard Allen Schenk, who, with his mother Jerri Stringer, allegedly stole military equipment - goggles, GPS equipment and flight helmets - and sold it to people in Belgium, Germany and New Zealand through the internet.
The indictment sheet against Schenk names Auckland man Will Jeffery as one of three purchasers of the stolen equipment. Jeffery did not return calls from the Sunday Star-Times yesterday.
Northland Emergency Services Trust chairman John Bain yesterday confirmed he knew of Jeffery but refused to comment on whether he had bought any goggles from him. He was unaware of the CAA probe.
"I'll have to see what they're doing and see what Civil Aviation is up to."
Helicopter firms which purchased the goggles through bona fide firms fear it could lead to them no longer obtaining licences from the US State Department to buy the goggles, potentially affecting their ability to perform difficult night rescues.
"It's frustrating," said Simon Duncan, owner of Christchurch firm Garden City Helicopters.
"These things are proven in the field in saving many lives. Our night missions account for 15% of our workload and two-thirds of those wouldn't previously have been done without these goggles."
Duncan said it had taken years - and the help of Helen Clark - for many helicopter operators to get permission to import the Advanced Night Vision System goggles.
Fogden said the CAA became aware of the problem on Thursday after US newspapers reported the case against Schenk. Its initial concern was that some of the stolen items imported might not meet aviation standards, but it was also aware of the diplomatic implications for firms which had bought the goggles from legitimate sources. He believed about 12 pairs of stolen goggles were in use here.
Court details against Schenk said he sold the goggles to fire departments, but the New Zealand Fire Service does not have night-vision goggles. Fogden said some rescue helicopter trusts had become frustrated with delays in obtaining appropriate certification and had decided to buy directly, possibly from Jeffery or other distributors. Once Fogden has the serial numbers for the tubes inside the night goggles verified in the US, it will be clear which firms have bought the stolen goods.
"They could come back and say some of these tube numbers were thought to be in Iraq."
He has asked for helicopter firms to courier him the requested information to avoid it being "doctored". Companies who had gone through the correct process would have no concerns, he said.
Transport Minister Annette King was alerted to the issue on Friday under the "no surprises" policy the government has with its departments.
Schenk, who was charged with stealing military equipment between December 2005 and April this year, as well as trying to hire an undercover agent to kill a potential prosecution witness, pleaded not guilty to the federal charges when he appeared before Judge Miles Davis last week. He was remanded in custody and his trial starts on October 1.
September 1st, 2007  
A Can of Man
I can't believe the guy was able to steal equipment for 2 years. That's serious inventory neglect.
Also I think it's very unfortunate for the NZ pilots... but I think the official channels should learn from this: if it's too darned difficult to get things the "by the book" way, people will look to other sources.
It's always like this when some kind of service becomes the only way you can obtain something. They are lazy, incompetent and arrogant as hell.

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