Charged with smuggling counterfeit goods into the United States, Abdul Masood Qayumi, 24, and Abdul Masih Qayumi, 26, are alleged to have sold dozens of poorly manufactured replacement airbags online in the months before their operation was shutdown.
Federal authorities contend the men were a small part of a growing illicit industry, as factories in China have begun manufacturing cut-rate airbags made to look like the genuine article. Regulators contend the counterfeit airbags often fail to deploy or explode, causing burns or throwing projectiles at the people they're supposed to protect.
The bogus bags are being sold to mechanics shopping online for car parts. While many likely know they're buying inferior products, sellers have been known to trick their customers into believing the airbags are salvaged or legitimate.
In July, Honda representatives went to authorities with claims that a Surrey, B.C., company was selling counterfeit airbags on eBay. Investigators traced the bogus airbags to the Qayumi brothers.
From April to November 2013, the brothers sold at least 38 counterfeit airbags smuggled into the United States at Blaine, a Homeland Security Investigations special agent said in charging papers. The agent went on to say that examinations of the airbags show they "were a possible danger to the public" as they might not deploy properly, could cause fires or launch projectiles when activated.
Citing National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research, the agent said counterfeit airbags recently entered the American market and are being used by unscrupulous mechanics looking to make more money.
"Counterfeit airbags produce a range of results, from the airbag not deploying at all to catastrophic failures where the airbag produces a fireball and forcefully expels metal shrapnel," the Homeland Security agent told the court. "Auto repair shops are buying and installing these counterfeit air bags into vehicles they repair in an effort to avoid the costs of genuine airbags."
The agent said counterfeit airbag sales have increased significantly recently. The bogus airbags sell for hundreds of dollars less than legitimate ones, and the counterfeiters now sell systems mimicking those in most popular car models.
Most of the counterfeit airbags are built in China and made to look genuine. The airbags are then sold on eBay, Craigslist and specialty sites to mechanics and car owners, who may believe they are buying a legitimate airbag salvaged at a junkyard.
That is exactly the claim the Quyami brothers are alleged to have made on eBay while selling counterfeit Honda airbags.
According to charging papers, investigators stopped Abdul Masood Qayumi on July 15 as he was coming into the United States at Blaine. Investigators claim to have seized emails from the younger Qayumi brother's phone showing the men were selling counterfeit airbags imported from China.
A Homeland Security agent bought two airbags from the brothers a month later. Investigators claim tests showed the airbag to be counterfeit; in the test, one "shot flames from the top and bottom of the bag" and part of the bag cover was launched in the explosion.
Writing the court, the agent said both brothers drove to the United States together to mail a second pair of counterfeit airbags to the undercover investigator.
Last week, a federal grand jury indicted the bothers on five counts related to smuggling counterfeit goods. The younger Qayumi is currently jailed and is expected to be arraigned Thursday in U.S. District Court at Seattle; an arrest warrant has been issued for Abdul Masih Qayumi.