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NASA Contractor Pleads Guilty in Laser Fraud

Photonics Spectra
Oct 2001
Stephanie A. Weiss

ORLANDO, Fla. -- An excimer laser developer has pleaded guilty to four charges that accuse him of accepting payments for lasers that he did not deliver and accepting services for which he did not pay.

In an Aug. 3 plea agreement, Philip D. Bolen of Altamonte Springs, Fla., president of Nexex Corp., admitted to mail and wire fraud, to theft of government property and to making a false statement to a government official. The agreement requires that he make restitution to NASA and to seven other people and companies. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 19.

A federal grand jury indicted Bolen in May on 55 counts of defrauding the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, several other photonics-related companies and two doctors of more than $500,000. He has been in jail without bond since his arrest in March.

Laser parts

Officials with the NASA Inspector General's Office of Criminal Investigations at the Kennedy Space Center said that in August 1999, NASA awarded Nexex a $138,900 contract for an excimer laser trimming sys-tem for installation at the Glenn Research Center, and for the training of 12 people.

Special Agent Patricia Koenig said the NASA research group had hoped to use the laser for a project that required fitting strain gauges with micron accuracy to jet aircraft engine blades.

NASA paid the contractor after he shipped a crate of equipment in early 2000, but Bolen did not install the laser or provide training, claiming that health problems prevented him from traveling, the officials said. NASA returned the equipment to Bolen, asking him to assemble it in Florida and to train the people there. Bolen did not respond, and in October 2000, NASA asked the inspector general to investigate.

Meanwhile, two doctors also paid Bolen after receiving crates of equipment that they thought contained eye-surgery lasers.

"He would send them, like he did NASA, crated materials that looked like a metal box with dials all over it," said Eric Johnson, resident agent in charge of the office of investigations.

Both doctors returned the equipment to Bolen: one because the equipment did not work, and the other because he found problems even before trying to operate it.

'Pieces and parts'

When officials arrested Bolen at his home in March, they recovered a "laser in pieces and parts," Johnson said. NASA engineers looked at the equipment and said parts were missing, so "we don't even know if it would have worked."

Bolen is listed as a co-inventor on three US patents, Nos. 5,594,753, 5,828,686 and 6,055,259, all titled "Cartridge excimer laser system" and assigned to Autonomous Technologies Corp. of Orlando. Summit Technology Inc. acquired Autonomous in 1998, and Alcon Laboratories Inc. acquired the merged company, Summit Autonomous Inc., in 2000. The company makes and sells excimer lasers for vision correction surgery.

"They told me [Bolen] was a smart guy," Johnson said. "He could talk the talk, provide the specifications, and he had the knowledge."

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