LOS ANGELES -- The Justice Department has accused a leading maker of military electronics of systematically falsifying tests on one of the most basic components of sophisticated weapons and spacecraft, according to a lawsuit unsealed in Los Angeles yesterday by a federal judge.
The civil suit asserts that the company, Teledyne Inc., routinely certified to the government between 1983 and 1990 that the electrical components had passed rigoroustests of their reliability when in fact they were often failing or when the test results were skewed by faulty test equipment.
Teledyne's failure to test the components properly defrauded the government of as much as $250 million, the suit maintains.
The parts, known as electromagnetic relays, are among the most common components of missiles, airplanes, rockets and most other hardware that are controlled by advanced electronics.
Teledyne's relays, which it produces by the hundreds of thousands each year, have been used in the space shuttle, the Patriot anti-missile system, the cruise missile and dozens of other programs.
Teledyne, a military contracting and industrial products company based in Los Angeles, had previously disclosed that it was the subject of a probe into testing irregularities.
Lawyers involved in the case said a criminal investigation by the Justice Department, with help from the Air Force, the Navy, the Army and NASA, was continuing.
They said the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles was likely to make a decision on seeking a criminal indictment of Teledyne in a few months.
A spokesman for Teledyne declined to comment yesterday. The company last year sent bulletins to buyers of the components saying it was modifying its testing procedures in response to the investigation, according to documents submitted in the civil case.
Teledyne was suspended by the Pentagon from shipping the components twice during 1990 and 1991 while the changes in the testing procedures were made, but has since been allowed to resume shipments to the government and other users.