A CSUN alumnus who built a manufacturing empire by making his own machine parts was indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for evading $20 million in taxes and intimidating a federal agent who was investigating the case.
Gene Haas, who maintains his innocence, is currently working with his lawyers to prepare a defense against the charges and is scheduled in court next January.
“They’re charging that tax forms weren’t properly completed so the belief is that there’s some fraud going on,” said Haas Automation spokesman Peter Zeirhut.
“He already paid the $20 million in taxes and interest over the last three years,” said Zeirhut of the indictment filed in June. “This is just a ridiculous case of overreaching by the U.S. Attorney.”
The Matador Motorsports team only know Haas as the donor their engineering lab is named after because of the cutting machines he donated in 1997.
These students follow his example, using the machines to make their own parts for formula-style racecars.
“When I heard about what happened, I didn’t know what to think because we don’t know him as a person,” said Project Manager Pablo Olmedo, who drove the latest red and black racer into 21st place out of 71 in a summer race in Fontana.
For these students, contact with the president of one of the major manufacturers of machine parts in the world has involved receiving a $7,500 check from Haas Automation or presenting officials with an honorary plaque and race team shirts.
Any plans to apply for more funds from Haas Automation or other corporations are still to be decided, said Hamid Johari, chair for the engineering department.
While there is concern about Haas’ finances because they are currently under federal review, “the Haas Foundation would be happy to continue to provide the department with donations if they’re still interested in receiving them,” Zeirhut said. “Corporate finances are under review, not Mr. Haas’ personal finances.”
Ricardo Valdez, the team’s financial manager, said he calls them every year because the two machines Haas donated are like Pay-As-You-Go cell phones.
“We need to dial a code into them so they can continue operating,” said Valdez.
Project President Stewart Prince said the two cutting machines have contributed to CSUN having one of the best mechanical engineering programs around.
“I was very much shocked to hear the news,” said Prince. “It’s very unfortunate.”
Both machines cut pieces of steel and aluminum by following specifications from a 3-D computer program, SolidWorks, which students use to design a racecar during the first semester of the project. They construct it the following semester.
Terry Sasaki, a member of the team who also works for a company that makes airplane windshields, said he is using the program to make sure the new racecar’s wheels do not move sideways when speeding forward during a race.
Joining Sasaki on the team is Rachel Nichols, who said General Motors recruited her at the Fontana race to work as a calibration engineer.
“All I talked to them about during the interview was formula racing,” said Nichols. “They love the work that we do and the team work that goes into it.”
This team consists of members who were mostly volunteers during the last student racecar project, putting in 40 to 50 hours of work without receiving course credit.
Now these students plan to use the experience on a new vehicle.
During the Fontana race, the last racecar’s throttle became jammed and caused them to finish at 21st place, not the team’s personal best. But they plan to have the new racecar shift gears automatically.
“We’re so hungry for this car,” said Olmedo. “We’re very into this car.”
But like Haas, the project has its problems.
While the Matador Motorsports team receives contributions from companies other than Haas Automation, which provides 10 percent of their budget, their ability to compete is limited to one race a year, because it is pricey to send cars to racetracks in other countries.
Another problem is that the current $50,000 budget is just enough to keep these vehicles running.
While their frame is usually made from lightweight but strong carbon composite, rubber tires and other components wear away, Valdez said.
Performance on the track is also affected by the limited budget. The Haas Lab is equipped with a machine that calibrates engines, but is missing crucial hardware.