Whistle-blower sues H.B. airplane parts company over his firing
A Huntington Beach aviation equipment manufacturer is being sued by a former employee who says he was illegally fired for whistle-blowing on the company.
Hoang Nguyen, 46, of Huntington Beach alleges that Ameri-King Inc. has been selling rebranded or refurbished products that were made in China and not approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, according to his attorney Katrina Foley, a Costa Mesa city councilwoman.
The FAA is investigating the company on allegations that it sold to distributors Chinese-made items such as emergency locater transmitters, altitude encoders and power converters that were relabeled to say they were made in the United States. The distributors then sold them to small-plane manufacturers like Cessna Aircraft Co., Foley said Wednesday.
“There’s about 400 small planes that crash annually,” Foley said. “There’s a lot of investigation going on right now as to whether or not some of what had been previously considered as pilot error is really faulty products.”
It is unknown whether any of Ameri-King’s products have been used in large commercial aircraft, Foley said.
The company, at 17881 Sampson Lane, sells about 5,000 parts to distributors each year, said Do Phu, another attorney for Nguyen.
Nguyen’s lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court, seeks general and compensatory damages, including lost wages, and compensation for mental and emotional distress.
“The lives of people using these airplanes are more important to me,” Nguyen said in Vietnamese as attorney Tuan Anh Nguyen interpreted. “The safety and lives of other people compelled me to do this.”
The complaint also accuses Ameri-King of tax evasion and using computer software that was installed without proper licensing, Foley said.
Victor Van, an Ameri-King manager, declined to comment Wednesday.
Ameri-King hired Nguyen in 2006 as an assembler, and he worked for the company for eight years. His duties included soldering wires to connectors and checking whether equipment worked properly, according to Nguyen’s complaint.
Nguyen says he observed other employees relabeling Chinese-made parts that were not FAA-approved.
In 2008, his complaint says, Nguyen confronted his supervisor, Keith Van, about the actions, saying the products “increased risk of airplane crashes.”
According to the complaint, Keith Van responded: “It’s strange to say this, but when an airplane crashes, no single company will be held liable, because an airplane has thousands of parts and any single one of them could have resulted in the crash. So no one will be able to say definitively what made the airplane crash.”
Nguyen says he continued to remind his employers of what they were doing. In 2011, he twice sent letters to the FAA detailing the activities, according to the complaint.
In October 2012, FAA inspectors visited Ameri-King to see the products and told Nguyen that they would open an investigation, the complaint says.
On Jan. 16, 2013, FAA officials interviewed Nguyen at the work site in front of Keith and Victor Van. Afterward, the complaint says, Keith Van told Nguyen that he could quit his job, and he later threatened to fire him if he continued making reports to the FAA.
Nguyen stayed in contact with the FAA and talked with officials at their office on Feb. 7, 2013. He met with FAA officials four more times that year, according to the complaint.
Ameri-King fired Nguyen on Jan. 8 this year, saying there was no work for him at the company. Nguyen argues that his work flow had not decreased and that several people were hired after he was let go.