Maricopa man accused of making counterfeit air bags

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

MARICOPA, Ariz. -- Police say a Maricopa man faces state criminal charges for allegedly manufacturing counterfeit air bags.

Dwight Smith, 58, was arrested Tuesday by a joint task force involving the Phoenix Police Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.

Federal agents and Phoenix police served a state search warrant at Smith's home on Rainbow Drive near State Route 347 Tuesday and reportedly found more than 40 counterfeit automotive air bags.

Detectives determined most of the air bags would not have worked properly if they were installed in vehicles.

The police department's bomb squad detonated several dozen small initiator components at the home as a safety precaution.

Smith was booked into Maricopa County Jail and charged with counterfeit marks and the manufacturing of counterfeit air bags and components.

Police said only vehicle manufacturers and their agents can legally install an air bag in a vehicle. Counterfeit air bags might not work properly and they contain chemicals that can be health hazards.

"It's an incredible risk," Officer James Holmes of the Phoenix Police Department said.

Holmes said there are three things that can go wrong with counterfeit air bags.

"There are chemicals inside that in a true air bag are designed to dissipate if that air bag is deployed," he explained. "In these, that might not happen. You're looking at burns. You're looking at problems with your eyes and inhaling these chemicals."

Second, air bags are designed with doors that open and allow the bags to deploy.

"We're finding that the doors are not correct and they actually become projectiles when the air bag is deployed," Holmes said.

Finally, Holmes said investigators discovered that most of the counterfeit air bags did not deploy at all and would not deploy in an emergency situation.

One telltale sign of a fake air bag is price. Air bags are expensive to buy and install. Replacing an air bag generally costs at least $800 and can be more than $1,000.

"Mr. Smith was installing them for $39 to $89," Holmes said. "The customer, of course, was saving hundreds and hundreds on replacing an air bag, but at what cost?

"You're risking your life and the lives of your family and your loved ones if you're having these air bags installed in your car," he continued.

The task force is trying to determine who had the counterfeit air bags installed in their vehicles. Any citizens who suspect their air bags are counterfeit are encouraged to visit a valid dealership and have the air bags inspected.