A Northport woman told a federal judge Monday that she posed as the owner of her husband’s Commack-based company so it could secure lucrative government contracts reserved for women-owned businesses before the company was accused of fraudulently selling Chinese-made surveillance and security equipment to the U.S. government.
Federal authorities have said the schemes by Aventura Technologies Inc. potentially exposed the military and federal agencies to cyber surveillance and attack.
Frances Cabasso, 63, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlene Lindsay to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud for misrepresenting the company as a woman-owned business when it was instead owned and operated by her husband, Jack Cabasso, who is expected to plead guilty at a later date.
“I certified to the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council that I am the active owner of Aventura and operating the business on a regular basis,” Cabasso told the judge. “In truth, and in fact, I was the nominee for my husband … the actual owner.”
WHAT TO KNOW
- A Northport woman told a federal judge Monday that she posed as the owner of her husband’s Commack-based company so it could secure lucrative government contracts reserved for women-owned businesses.
- Frances Cabasso, 63, pleaded guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlene Lindsay to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud for misrepresenting the company as a woman-owned business when it was actually owned by her husband.
The company, Aventura Technology Inc., was also accused of fraudulently selling Chinese-made surveillance and security equipment to the U.S. government, which federal prosecutors said potentially exposed the military and federal agencies to cybersecurity surveillance and attack.
The Cabassos, and five Aventura employees who previously pleaded guilty, were arrested by federal authorities in 2019.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Mindlin told Lindsay that Jack Cabasso and other Aventura employees coached Frances Cabasso on how to represent herself as the owner of the company to gain certification as a female-owned business.
Mindlin said Frances Cabasso was “rarely or never” at the Aventura offices she purported to run. Prosecutors previously said she instead worked for a small accounting firm not related to her husband’s business.
As part of the plea agreement, Jack Cabasso and Aventura Technologies must also plead guilty and “wind down” business operations, Mindlin said. The couple will also forfeit assets seized by the government in 2019 searches of their home and offices, he added. Prosecutors previously said seized assets included a 70-foot luxury yacht called "Tranquilo," valued at $700,000 and more than $3 million from bank accounts.
Frances Cabasso and her attorney, Kenneth Kaplan of Manhattan, declined to comment. She will be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Joan Azrack at a later date. Mindlin estimated a guideline sentence of between 10 and 16 months in federal prison for Cabasso. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years behind bars.
The investigation began in 2017 after a tipster reported the alleged schemes to the General Services Agency's inspector general hotline, officials have said.
The schemes, which date to 2006, netted about $88 million in sales, including $20 million in government contracts between 2010 and 2019, authorities have said.
The Chinese-manufactured equipment included network surveillance cameras imported into the United States through Kennedy Airport in Queens.
Some of the items, according to prosecutors, were premarked "Made in USA" with an American flag and Aventura's logo before being shipped from China to the United States. Other markings indicating Chinese provenance were removed.
The equipment fraudulently labeled as American-made, including body cameras for Air Force personnel, was placed on Army and Air Force bases, in Department of Energy facilities, Navy installations and U.S. aircraft carriers, prosecutors said. The company also sold the goods to private companies, which paid a premium for what they thought were American-made items.
The government has also alleged the Cabassos laundered money, siphoning Aventura’s illegal profits out of the company and through a network of shell companies.
The Cabassos and the five other defendants were additionally charged in the 2019 indictment with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for the country of origin scheme and unlawful importation. The Cabassos were additionally charged with money laundering conspiracy.
Senior executives in the company who previously admitted their guilt include Jonathan Lasker, 38, of Port Jefferson Station, the director of operations; Christine Lavonne Lazarus, 49, of Shirley, the director of business development; and Eduard Matulik, 46, of North Massapequa, the director of international sales; along with Wayne Marino, 43, of Rocky Point, a network specialist; and Alan Schwartz, 74, of Smithtown, who was a systems engineering manager before retiring shortly before the indictment. They all await sentencing.