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FBI obtained Charlotte airport documents in DesignLine probe

In its investigation of bankrupt bus-maker DesignLine, the FBI has examined purchase orders, maintenance records and other documents related to buses operated by Charlotte Douglas International Airport, according to documents obtained by the Observer through a public records request.

The FBI also asked to examine five of the 10 buses operated by the airport, according to notes taken by Herbert Judon, assistant aviation director for operations. The agents wanted to inspect some parts and components, he wrote in the notes.

The Observer reported last month that the FBI was investigating Charlotte-based DesignLine over allegations the company placed used parts on new buses. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment. The airport has previously told the Observer that the FBI interviewed Jerry Orr, the airport’s former aviation director, this summer as part of its investigation.

Municipalities often use federal grants to help buy buses, and bus manufacturers can be subject to federal purchasing regulations. It could be considered fraud if a used part was represented as new.

A group of investors led by retired Air Force Gen. Buster Glosson and his son, Brad, bought DesignLine in 2006 and moved it from New Zealand to Charlotte. The company struggled financially for years and brought in new management in 2012.

In August, the company filed for bankruptcy after a potential investor pulled out. Then the company laid off most of its workers. A California investment group has agreed to buy the company’s assets and has said it plans to reopen.

Former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx was an in-house lawyer at DesignLine from late 2009 until he became U.S. transportation secretary in July. Foxx told the Observer this month that he he didn’t know “anything more on the investigation than you do,” and referred questions to the FBI.

In response to a records request by the Observer, the airport provided property receipts that showed the FBI obtaining records from the airport in June and returning the documents in July, according to the documents and airport officials.

According to Judon’s notes, the agents wanted purchase orders, contracts, information related to warranties and repair work, manuals and information about serial numbers.

The agents also wanted to “arrange a date and time to have direct access to some of the buses,” he wrote. “There are some parts/components they would like to inspect.”

Airport officials said they are not aware of the FBI conducting an inspection of the buses.

In an interview, Orr said he recalls talking to the FBI in June, and “about all they were concerned about was the use of used parts.” He said he didn’t know if there were any used parts on the buses.

The airport bought its first two buses from DesignLine in 2007, bought five more with the help of a U.S. Department of Energy grant in 2010 and added three more used buses in 2011.

Rothacker: 704-358-5170; Twitter: @rickrothacker
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