Phony smoke detectors given out by Atlanta Fire Department

ATLANTA --

The Atlanta Fire Rescue Department announced Thursday night that it was recalling more than 18,000 smoke detectors it distributed, after a CBS Atlanta News investigation uncovered that the smoke detectors were counterfeit.

The CBS Atlanta investigation led by reporter Jennifer Mayerle triggered an investigation by the FBI and Underwriters Laboratories, a company that puts smoke detectors through rigorous tests and decides if they meet national safety standards before they reach your home or business.

Virginia McDay and her neighbor, Cheryl Harper, live in what they call a forgotten neighborhood.

“This is my family home,” said McDay.

Morehouse Drive is an older area of northwest Atlanta. Many of the homes are run down; the people living there, disadvantaged.

It's also a neighborhood where the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department handed out free smoke detectors. These seniors thought they were being protected.

“I thought, the Fire Department. Hey, it's a good one,” said McDay.

Now because of CBS Atlanta’s tough questions investigation, those same smoke detectors and the people who sold them are being investigated by the FBI. The smoke detectors are counterfeit.

Mayerle asked Harper, “It never worked?”

“No,” said Cheryl. “The fire department gave me that.”

Let me introduce you to Bob Silver, a man described by a former acquaintance as sleazy, a crook and, “a fairly morally corrupt person who seemed to think it was OK and seemed to think he could get away with anything,” said the person who wanted to remain anonymous.

The tough questions investigation took Mayerle and photographer A.J. Willen to California to run down the businessman who sold the 18,500 counterfeit smoke detectors to the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department.

Mayerle asked Bob Silver of Silver Sails, “Did you think you were going to get away with selling counterfeit smoke detectors to the city of Atlanta?”

“There's no counterfeit smoke detectors,” said Silver.

“If they're not counterfeit, what do you have to hide?” said Mayerle.

“Nothing. Just, I don't want to be involved,” said Silver.

Bob’s accomplice is his wife Judy Silver. But Bob, a career criminal, is the apparent mastermind behind the counterfeit smoke detectors sold to the fire department.

“Are you ready to go back to prison?” said Mayerle.

“I'm not ready to go anywhere,” said Silver.

The investigation revealed Bob and Judy Silver served time in prison before for selling smoke detectors with counterfeit underwriters laboratories labels to the federal government.

Those counterfeit smoke detectors are housed on a secure Army base waiting to be destroyed. The Silvers admitted they put fake UL labels on the back. You may have seen the UL mark before. UL, or Underwriters Laboratories, is the company that puts smoke detectors through rigorous tests and decides if they meet national safety standards.

When Mayerle realized the Silvers sold smoke detectors to the fire department, it raised a red flag.

A hologram UL label on the back of the smoke detectors the Silvers sold the fire department is the give-away. It's counterfeit.

Underwriters Laboratories confirmed the label on the back of the smoke detectors are counterfeit. Mayerle and Willen traveled to Northbrook just outside of Chicago to talk to UL about the investigation they started as a result of our tough questions. UL provided CBS Atlanta with a statement.

“Our investigation has confirmed that the smoke alarms in question bear counterfeit UL marks. These devices are counterfeit, were not evaluated by UL to UL's safety requirements for smoke alarms and are not authorized to bear the UL mark.”

There’s a big difference between the inside of a UL-approved smoke detector and the counterfeit one.

“It doesn't look like it has all the circuits,” said state Fire Marshal Dwayne Garriss.

“If the circuit board isn't complete, would it work?” said Mayerle.

“More than likely not, not the way it should,” said Garriss.

“Do you care that you're putting people's lives in danger?” Mayerle asked Silver.

“I’m not putting anybody's lives in danger. Get out of here,” said Silver.

At least two of the lives the Silvers may have put in danger are Atlanta seniors Virginia McDay and Cheryl Harper.

After Mayerle became suspicious about the smoke detectors, she removed the bad smoke detectors from their homes and replaced them with working UL-approved smoke detectors.

“I feel a lot better, and I believe you gave me a good one. I really do,” said McDay.

The women couldn't believe the fire safety of their families had been relying on counterfeit smoke detectors they received from the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department.

“Do you think it could cost someone their life?” Mayerle asked McDay.

“Yes, it could cost someone their life. It probably has cost someone their life,” said McDay.

“Thank you CBS Atlanta. Thank you so very much,” said Harper.

The day Mayerle had even partial confirmation these smoke detectors had counterfeit labels on them and could be putting lives in danger, she called Chief Kelvin Cochran of the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department. She felt it was important to alert him immediately because of the life safety concerns.

Copyright 2011 by cbsatlanta.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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