SEATTLE (AP) – A Federal Aviation Administration employee from Southern California took illegal perks from his job – including a plane, yachts and heavy-duty trucks – and an investigation continues into how widespread the practice was, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Steven Bradley Smith, a field technician with the FAA in San Diego, abused an internal computer system to claim surplus items from other government agencies, according to charging papers unsealed Thursday in federal court in Tacoma, Wash.

“There’s a great concern about who knew what about this – about whether it’s something that was systemic, or one guy who managed to find the seam in the zone defense of the FAA,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Jennings told The Associated Press.

He said he could not comment further on the investigation.

The computer system is run by the General Services Administration and is designed to allow federal agencies to list items they no longer need, so that other agencies can acquire them free of charge. Prosecutors said Smith should not have been authorized to acquire items but managed to anyway – purportedly on behalf of the FAA – using another agency’s code number.

Among the 215 items Smith obtained since 2004 were a Cessna 210 from the Forest Service, a Boston Whaler from the Coast Guard, several computers and a 44-foot Navy yacht that had been used by the ROTC at the University of Washington, the charging document said.

Smith and his half-brother, Bradley Garner – who owns Royal Limousine Service in Bermuda Dunes, Calif., and is accused of receiving some of the goods – are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and theft of honest services.

Smith made an initial appearance Thursday in federal court in Santa Ana, Calif., and was ordered to post a $200,000 bond before he could be released on electronic home monitoring, Jennings said. It was not immediately clear who Smith’s lawyer was.

Garner was scheduled for a detention hearing Friday. A public defender who represented Garner at his initial appearance, Joan Politeo, was out of the office Thursday afternoon and did not return a message seeking comment.

Investigators said they determined that Smith turned the yacht, a fiberglass yawl called the Lively, over to Garner, who took it to Canada, where it remains. He also gave Garner the Cessna, and even though the plane remained owned by the government, Garner managed to take out an insurance policy – and received a $45,000 payment when the plane was damaged in a storm while parked at a Louisiana airport in 2007.

The Boston Whaler was found on a trailer in front of Smith’s home in Blue Jay, Calif., along with a boat previously used by the Border Patrol and a Chevrolet K2500 truck once used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Attached to that truck was a 600-gallon tank trailer formerly used by the Air Force, according to an affidavit filed by Christopher M. Bjornstad, a special agent with the GSA’s inspector general.

Smith also arranged for transfer of another yacht and several other trucks, officials said. Other items, including several Apple computers, were sold on eBay, Bjornstad wrote.

Smith’s activity came to the attention of the GSA when someone else in the Transportation Department reported he had been using their code number to try to claim the Lively this year. Investigators allowed him to continue the practice to build a case against him, the court documents say, and the Lively episode is the reason charges were filed in Washington.

It’s unclear how Smith would have obtained such items from around the country while keeping his day job. After agencies claim items through the computer system, they must physically acquire them.

“It’s not like UPS shows up with a boat on your doorstep,” Jennings said.

In some cases, such as with the yacht, Smith sent Garner to pick up the items.

Ian Gregor, a spokesman for the FAA in Los Angeles, confirmed that Smith still works for the agency.

“Speaking generally, and not in relation to any specific case, the FAA has no tolerance for anyone misusing the funds of the United States of America,” he said in a written statement. “We expect excellence and professionalism from all of our 46,000 employees.”

Jennings said the government would try to reclaim its property – if it can find it.

“There’s another Boston Whaler missing and a bunch of other boats we’re still looking for,” he said.

AP-ES-11-20-08 2240EST


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