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Engineer at Roanoke County plant sent to prison for sale of night vision goggles

Engineer at Roanoke County plant sent to prison for sale of night vision goggles

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A former engineer at a Roanoke County night vision plant, who stole the company’s devices and sold them online in what prosecutors called a threat to national security, was sentenced Monday to 18 months in prison.

Steven David Rosine established an illicit market for components of night vision goggles that were produced for the U.S. military, “putting the safety of American soldiers in jeopardy,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristin Johnson said.

As a product engineer for what was then Harris Corp., Rosine secretly took valuable image intensifier tubes and other parts used to manufacture the goggles from a secure workplace to his Botetourt County home.

There, the college graduate with an annual income of more than $100,000 set up a moonlighting business, advertising the items for sale on a website and shipping them to Paypal purchasers in more than 20 states.

Prosecutors said the scheme, which lasted from 2010 to 2018, cost Harris about $400,000.

There was no evidence that the equipment fell into bad hands. In fact, Rosine, 48, was changed only with transporting stolen items across state lines.

But there was a risk, federal authorities said, that an enemy of the United States could have acquired the night vision goggles and used them against American forces in combat, or replicated their technology for mass production.

“One of the greatest fears of a U.S. military service member is that the tactical advantage is held by the enemy,” Hunter Durham, a special agent for Homeland Security Investigations, testified Monday. Durham, who investigated the case, served as a combat veteran and relied on night vision devices.

While the night vision equipment made at Harris was for military use, either as goggles or sighting devices on weapons, it also was sold commercially in some cases for recreation, home security and law enforcement uses.

Rejecting pleas for a lesser punishment, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Dillon noted that classified data was used at the Harris plant, and that Rosine held a security clearance from the Department of Defense.

“This was a significant endeavor that required planning,” she said in imposing an 18-month sentence. Rosine remained free on bond following the video-conference hearing, and was given 60 days to report to prison.

The crime demoralized Rosine’s fellow employees, many of them former members of the military, according to Erik Fox, the general manager of the plant, now owned by Elbit Systems of America.

“Our products protect and save lives, and our customers place a large amount of trust in us,” Fox said in a statement read in court. “Mr. Rosine violated that trust.”

Three years ago, a buyer in Las Vegas had a question about maintenance of the device he had purchased from Rosine. He took it to a trade show, where it was recognized as a Harris-made product.

When Rosine became the target of a criminal investigation, he immediately cooperated, defense attorney Rob Dean said in asking for a suspended prison sentence for a defendant with no prior criminal record.

“From the very moment he sat down with investigators, he said: ‘I want to help,’” Dean said.

Rosine characterized the equipment he took as “scrap,” meaning it did not meet Harris’ quality standards and was being warehoused at the plant. That designation allowed the thefts to go undetected because the items were no longer tracked in an inventory system.

But Rosine knew what he was doing, Johnson argued. A sentencing memorandum detailed how he used the alias “Steve Rosini” when making the sales, and how he set up a specific bank account — separate from his family’s — for the proceeds.

Rosine spent the money on travel and hobbies that included firearms and aviation, the memorandum stated.

None of Rosine’s buyers was suspected of criminal activity. They all agreed to return their merchandise to the government, Durham testified, and were considered victims eligible for the $170,777 in restitution that Rosine has already paid.

In a statement shortly before he was sentenced, Rosine expressed remorse. He told Dillon that he had suffered the loss of a job, his professional reputation, many of his friends and countless nights of sleep.

“My life will be forever changed,” he said.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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