By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A company fined more than $5 million by the federal government on allegations it lied about the source of tungsten it sold to the government of Israel is now facing a wrongful termination lawsuit in Wyoming.
George Pazos is suing Tungsten Heavy Powder and its Laramie subsidiary, claiming he was fired when he refused to take part in efforts to relabel Chinese tungsten materials as having been made in the United States.
The lawsuit seeks damages to be determined in a jury trial.
The lawsuit, which was moved to U.S. District Court in Wyoming last week after having been filed in federal court in California, contains allegations similar to those raised in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by seven former employees of the company in April 2020 that was settled out-of-court in August 2020.
The federal government fined Tungsten Heavy Powder $5.6 million in April 2021, saying the company had submitted false certifications to United States officials regarding the source of the tungsten the company sold to the government of Israel in a deal financed through an American grant program.
Although the tungsten was required to come from the United States, it in fact came from China and was relabeled to make it appear American. Tungsten Heavy Powder also used Mexican companies to assemble equipment it sold to Israel and then said the equipment had been assembled in the United States, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
According to the lawsuit, Pazos was hired by THP in 2016 as an accounting manager who also worked as a quality manager and operations manager. In 2017, he was transferred to THP’s Laramie subsidiary, Tungsten Parts Wyoming.
The lawsuit said Pazos was also responsible for monitoring the company’s compliance with federal regulations surrounding the sale of defense components.
Pazos reported violations of the rules to the company’s owners, the lawsuit said, but was told to “keep your mouth shut and just do your job” and would be threatened with the loss of his job.
He was also ordered on at least one occasion to submit documents stating tungsten that was to be used by Northrop Grumman was from the United States, when it came from China.
The alleged violations of federal rules also included one that the company allowed a foreign national, the brother of the company’s co-owner, access to information that should have been kept confidential under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.
Pazos was fired in 2019, the lawsuit said, and after his dismissal, the company falsely accused him of crimes, telling people he was a thief who had stolen company property.
The company also filed false reports with law enforcement agencies, the lawsuit said.
“To this day, (THP continues) to retaliate against and harass (Pazos) for reporting and attempting to remedy their statutory and regulatory violations,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit accuses the company of violating federal “whistleblower” laws by firing Pazos, wrongful termination “in violation of public policy” and defamation.