Crime & Justice

Calif. men who made drug-cheat device sentenced

A California man who spent nearly six years in prison for a 1980s marijuana-trafficking conviction got six months in federal prison for running a company that sold a male prosthetic called the Whizzinator that helped men cheat on drug tests.

Gerald W. Wills, 67, of Los Angeles, sold the device and a product called Number 1 that could be used by either men or women, along with a synthetic urine to fill the devices.

Wills' since-disbanded company, Puck Technology Inc., of Signal Hill, Calif., advertised the devices on the Internet as a way for pilots, truck drivers and others whose safety is regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation to beat drug tests.

The Web site even included testimonials from those who used it.

"I have to pass a test while being observed, and not only was it undetectable, I passed with flying colors," one testimonial said. Another read, "I have to pass DOT drug screens every quarter and your product has saved my job countless times."

Wills' partner, Robert D. Catalano, 65, of Huntington Beach, Calif., was sentenced Tuesday to three years of probation.

The men pleaded guilty in 2008 to conspiracy to sell drug paraphernalia and conspiracy to defraud the United States, because the products were specifically marketed to beat federal drug tests.

The devices were sold from October 2005 through May 2008. The men disbanded the company and surrendered $300,000 in cash and all other assets as part of their plea agreement. As a result, U.S. District Judge David Cercone did not fine either man.

Prosecutors asked for leniency because the two men have continued to cooperate in other investigations. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary McKeen Houghton would not detail those other investigations and her motion seeking leniency was under seal.

Catalano faced up to a year in prison under sentencing guidelines.

"I fully understand I was a criminal and took full responsibility for my actions," Catalano said in a tearful statement to the court. He said he panicked in September 2008 when a Metrolink commuter train crashed head-on into a freight train in Chatworth, Calif., killing 25 people.

"I was terrified he could have used one of my products to pass a drug test," Catalano said of the train's engineer. "I'm more sorry for my actions than I could ever say."

Drugs weren't a factor in the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board found the commuter train's engineer was distracted by text messaging.

Wills also expressed remorse, saying he offered, "No excuses, your honor."

Wills faced up to 14 months in prison under federal guidelines, but Cercone gave him six months because of his "extraordinary" cooperation with authorities. Cercone said Wills' drug record was too much to ignore saying, "The public would be outraged with a slap on the wrist."

Wills said after the hearing that he spent five years, nine months in federal prison after a marijuana-trafficking conviction in Montana in the 1980s, but he otherwise declined to comment.

"Mr. Wills accepts his punishment with grace and promises to be a good boy forever," said his attorney, Victor Sherman.

Attorneys for both men said their clients didn't realize the business was illegal and shut it down once they learned it was.

"Obviously, the immorality of it was clear from the beginning," said Catalano's attorney, Stanton Levenson. "But that's different from whether or not it's illegal."

© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.