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Former worker at Corpus Christi Army Depot found guilty in military aircraft scheme

Posted at 1:54 PM, Nov 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-14 17:24:14-05

EL PASO, Texas — A former worker at Corpus Christi Army Depot is facing up to 30 years in federal prison for signing off on military aircraft maintenance inspections before the inspections had been made.

On Tuesday afternoon, a federal jury in El Paso found James Hilario Balbin, of Corpus Christi, guilty on one count of conspiracy to commit fraud involving aircraft parts and one substantive count of fraud involving aircraft parts.

According to a press release issued by the United States Attorney's Office- West District of Texas, U.S. Attorney John F. Bash said Balbin was a former civilian employee at Fort Bliss who was involved in a scheme to defraud the government with respect to military aircraft maintenance and parts.

Balbin was employed at the Corpus Christi Army Depot when he was arrested on Jan. 28, 2019.

During the trial, federal prosecutors presented evidence from November and December of 2017.

It proved that while Balbin was assigned to conduct maintenance inspections on an Army Blackhawk helicopter, he signed off an official Army maintenance form verifying that all inspections had taken place and work was completed. In truth, he signed the form before the repair work was completed and before inspections had taken place.

The jury also found that Balbin conspired with Robert Edgard Blankenbeker, a mechanic and his co-defendant, to conceal his crime.

Balbin remains on bond pending sentencing. Balbin faces up to 30 years in federal prison and restitution to the government.

On July 19, 2019, Blankenbeker pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge. Blankenbeker remains on bond pending sentencing, facing up to 15 years in federal prison.

No sentencing dates have been scheduled.

Meanwhile, two Corpus Christi Army Depot employees are facing similar charges.

Albert Flores, of Corpus Christi, and Samuel Escareno, of Robstown, are charged with one count each of conspiracy and falsifying records related to aircraft parts.

According to a federal indictment, the two former supervisors ordered other workers to falsify inspection records for Blackhawk helicopter blades. Both allegedly did so in order for nonconforming rotor blades would appear to meet specifications when they actually did not.

The two are expected to go on trial in federal court in Corpus Christi on Jan. 21.

If convicted, they could receive sentences of up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.