Two sentenced to probation in phony air bag scheme

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The Transportation Department said Friday that a second employee of a Michigan company was sentenced to probation for trafficking in counterfeit air bags.

Last week, Samar Ayoub, an associated of Eagle Auto Sales in Detroit, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Detroit to three years probation, and $5,100 in fines for trafficking in counterfeit air bags. Ayoub pleaded guilty to the charges in November.

The investigation by the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General found that Ayoub and Hussein Jomaa, a manager at Eagle Auto Sales, intentionally trafficked goods they knew bore counterfeit and trademark infringing marks that were identical to and substantially indistinguishable from genuine parts.

Jomaa was sentenced in March to three years’ probation, 200 hours of community service and a $3,000 fine for trafficking in counterfeit air bags. Jomaa pleaded guilty in December.

In October 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration held a high-profile press conference to warn millions of car owners of the “extreme safety risk” of counterfeit air bags, saying there are "thousands" of fake safety devices in vehicles that were repaired after collisions.

Then-NHTSA Administrator David Strickland released a list of about 100 models that could have counterfeit air bags. He played a video of a crash test with a counterfeit bag showing flames and shards of metal flying into a test dummy. A second video showed an air bag only partially inflating.

None of the nearly dozen counterfeit air bags tested by NHTSA worked as it should.

Tests conducted by NHTSA prompted the "unusual step," Strickland said, saying the tests show that the phony air bags are an "extreme safety risk."

NHTSA believes the problem may impact less than 0.1 percent of the U.S. vehicle fleet. Only vehicles which have had an air bag replaced within the past three years by a repair shop that is not part of a new car dealership may be at risk. Government officials told industry officials that there may be 25,000 counterfeit air bags.

The National Automobile Dealers Association said in a notice to its members that "counterfeit bags typically appear very much like genuine parts and rarely trigger a trouble light or diagnostic code and are hard to detect without a full physical inspection."

The government said Ayoub illegally caused what she knew were counterfeit automobile air bags to be imported, without properly declaring them as hazardous materials, into the United States purporting that they were genuine air bags of Honda Motor Co.

The air bags and air bag parts were advertised over the Internet to customers in more than 20 states throughout the United States and in Puerto Rico.

The investigation revealed Jomaa knowingly purchased counterfeit automotive parts purporting that they were genuine Honda parts. Jomaa knowingly purchased counterfeit Honda branded air bags, air bag covers, "H" logo emblems and center wheel caps from various sources, including Ayoub. Jomaa, using Eagle Auto Sales, illegally caused to be exported more than 85 salvaged and/or used Honda vehicles that contained counterfeit and trademark infringing Honda automobile parts.