'Trust, but verify': A motto we can live with

Safety is becoming more and more important as counterfeit goods continue permeating the market


The very worst part of the world we live in today is that we have become suspicious of one another. One perspective on the events of Boston in April is that two young men walking down the street carrying backpacks used to be no big deal. We don’t have that feeling today. We can feel safe, but we probably won’t for a while.

The fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, is cause for more unease. Anyone who saw the harrowing video of the plant fire suddenly knocking over a family with the sheer force of the blast wave from a mile away cannot forget it. The workplace it specific hazards; this kind of event falls well outside those expectations.

Circuit breakers are commodities. They are produced in the hundreds of thousands each year, and the great plants produce them all to the highest quality, to the most stringent tolerances. They do this because to do otherwise would jeopardize their business and their customers, and no amount of profit margin is worth that risk.

Yet there are less reputable manufacturers who factor those risks into the cost of doing business. Worse, there are those who will make cheap knockoffs of the real thing and sell them to unsuspecting customers. The result can be dangerous, even deadly, but the distributors of these counterfeit products want only the profit. The safety of the workers, they must reason, is someone else’s problem.

So, as our cover story this month points out, we must be suspicious. We must be cautious. We must do for ourselves and our workers what those who would sell these phony items will not do for us. The danger of counterfeit circuit breakers is real—and so is the danger posed by people who would try to profit from the dangers.

Take the case of Nick Toldy of Austin, Texas. According to the court documents, Toldy took American circuit breakers with him to China, and worked on having knock-off versions of the circuit breakers manufactured in China with the trademarks of several well-known circuit breaker manufacturers. He also added the official trademark of Underwriters Laboratories and began selling the bogus circuit breakers not only as a legitimate product, but a product that bore the UL label.

The Homeland Security Investigations division of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency raided Toldy’s Pioneer Breaker and Control Supply warehouse in Austin in April 2011 and seized 19,000 counterfeit breakers. A subsequent raid in Laredo, Texas, yielded another 77,000 phony breakers.

By December 2011, Toldy had pled guilty to mail fraud and selling the phony breakers. In November 2012, he was sentenced by a federal judge to a year and a day in prison and ordered to pay almost $60,000 in restitution.

At the time of Toldy’s guilty plea, Susan McCormick, special agent in charge of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement investigation out of the Jacksonville, Fla., office, had some harsh words about Toldy. “This individual, motivated only by greed, has allowed these potentially dangerous counterfeit circuit breakers to be bought and used in homes and businesses around the country,” she said in a press release. “These items, which have not been properly manufactured or tested, could lead to costly repairs, property damage, and even serious injury or death.”

The case of Nick Toldy ought to be a cautionary tale for the counterfeiters, except that his sentence of 366 days in jail, given federal sentencing guidelines, means that if he was sentenced last November, he ought to be getting out right about…now.

The real cautionary tale is for the rest of us. Our story this month points out several things to look for with counterfeit breakers, and an experienced electrical manager probably can spot a phony. The most important thing to remember, as it is with the products YOU manufacture, is that the product price is but one factor to consider when you buy any commodity for your plant.

Know your supplier—and if your supplier doesn’t know you, look for another supplier. Examine your shipment when it comes through the door, and again before it goes in the machine.

“Trust, but verify,” is a quote attributed to Ronald Reagan during the end of the Cold War and the negotiations with Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev for an arms treaty. Ironically, it’s an old Russian adage, and as the story goes, when Reagan first spoke it to Gorbachev, he spoke it in Russian.

Reagan knew that if he was going to use the phrase, he was going to give proper credit to its place of origin. “Trust, but verify” is a great way to reconcile our current world, inside and outside our plant. 

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