RICHMOND, Va. - After 21 years on the run, a Michigan man convicted of defrauding the Defense Department returned to a Virginia courtroom Tuesday to face a charge of failure to appear at his 1988 sentencing, federal prosecutors said.
John C. Curtiss, 65, pleaded not guilty to the charge. He was found after authorities in Nassau, Bahamas, picked him up on an immigration visa violation and he was returned to the United States last month, acting U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente said. Officials were unsure how long Curtiss had been in the country.
Prosecutors said Curtiss, who was barred from government contracting in 1984, established a sham operation in which his wife and a friend bid on government contracts on his behalf. He sold inferior electrical products to the military that he made in a workshop at his Warren, Mich., home.
Curtiss was charged in Virginia because his contract was with the Defense General Supply Center in Richmond.
"John Curtiss committed a deplorable act when he knowingly provided inferior quality goods to the Department of Defense," said Sharon Woods, director of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.
Woods added: "Substandard materials Curtiss provided were utilized in critical military weapon systems designed to protect our nation. Rather than take responsibility for his actions, Curtiss chose to flee the United States and to live under an assumed identity."
Martin Stidham, enforcement director for the U.S. Marshals Service in eastern Virginia, said a fingerprint match through Interpol led them to Curtiss, who had told authorities in the Bahamas that he was Australian.
Authorities said he will be tried July 14 on the charge of failure to appear. He also is scheduled to be sentenced the same day in U.S. District Court in Richmond on the 21 fraud counts.
He faces up to 105 years in prison and millions in fines for the 1988 convictions, along with five years and a $250,000 fine if he's convicted of failure to appear.
The contracts were valued at about $184,000 at the time, authorities said. The military used the products in a variety of applications, including submarines, aircraft and radar.
Curtiss' attorney, Amy Austin of the federal public defender's office, said her client has the right to appeal his 1988 convictions after he is sentenced, but it's too early to say what they will do.
"We're still in the initial stages of finding our feet here," she said.
U.S. District Judge Richard Williams ordered Curtiss held until sentencing.
Curtiss did not object to the detention, Austin said.