7:17 PM 4/1/1996

Physicist testifies that tracker lucky to find anything

Copyright 1996 Houston Chronicle East Texas Bureau

BEAUMONT -- A Rice University nuclear physicist testified Monday that a device sold with the promise that it could locate everything from lost golf balls to illegal drugs and weapons has no more than a random chance of finding anything.

"Known physics preclude the chance of it working," said William Llope.

Llope's testimony was the government's opening salvo in a drive to put the Quadro Corp. permanently out of business. In a civil trial that began Monday in U.S. District Court in Beaumont, prosecutors claim the company, based in Harleyville, S.C., sold hundreds of the devices to school districts and police agencies around the country, primarily to find illicit drugs and weapons.

Llope, who is currently working on a project to build devices to detect subatomic particles for some of the country's top nuclear research facilities, said he could find nothing in the Quadro Tracker that would make it work. The device is mainly an empty plastic box the size of a transistor radio with what appears to be a telescoping antenna attached to it.

Llope said he twice saw the device fail in two informal tests.

At one test at the Houston Independent School District administration building, an officer tried to determine which of several people in a room had a bullet in his pocket. Llope said the device pointed to the wrong person.

Llope said he designed another test at New Caney High School's cafeteria for the television tabloid show Hard Copy. He took 10 identical film canisters and put bolts in nine of them and a bullet in one. He then shook up the canisters in a bag so that nobody knew which one held the bullet and placed the canisters around the cafeteria.

An officer using a Quadro Tracker failed in four attempts to find the canister with the bullet in it, then gave up trying.

"This was significantly worse than chance," Llope said.

Quadro Corp. officials told prospective customers that the device has conductors, inductors and oscillators in it and is powered from static electricity generated when the operator walks around holding it.

But the device contains no such conductors, inductors or oscillators. And the corporation's lawyers said Monday that the company has offered to stop making that claim.

Government prosecutors claim the device is a "modern-day divining rod" and that Quadro officials committed fraud when they sold it.

Testimony before U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield is expected to continue for at least two more days.

Heartfield issued a temporary injunction in February forbidding marketing of the device. If he agrees with federal prosecutors, the injunction will be made permanent.