8:40 PM 4/22/1996

Federal judge bars sale of product, labels it a fraud

BEAUMONT (AP) -- A federal judge on Monday permanently barred a South Carolina company from making or selling the Quadro Tracker, a device supposedly able to detect a slew of items, from illicit drugs to golf balls.

U.S. District Judge Thad Heartfield, citing fear that the device could lead to civil rights violations and calling it a fraud, extended a temporary order he issued against Quadro Corp. of Harleyville, S.C., in February.

Quadro has sold about 1,000 trackers to school districts and law enforcement agencies nationwide at prices up to $8,000. Company officials touted the plastic, nonelectronic device with aradio antenna as a detector of weapons, explosives and narcotics.

But the FBI, after examining it at laboratories in Quantico, Va., and New Mexico, concluded that the tracker was nothing more than an empty plastic box.

Heartfield, who heard a week of evidence regarding the tracker earlier this month, agreed, finding that "the defendants engaged in a scheme to defraud." He ordered Quadro not to manufacture or sell any of its devices.

"None of the operational tests conducted by witnesses showed that Quadro's devices could locate objects except by chance,"the judge wrote. "Like the dowser with a divining rod, the user of a Quadro Tracker must ultimately rely upon, not science, but the belief that it works.

"The court finds that defendants do not know of any scientific principles which could make the devices operate."

Among the school districts that purchased the trackers were the Houston, Spring and New Caney public schools. Some who used it contend that it appeared to work, even though they couldn't explain it.

The Houston Independent School District bought two Quadro Trackers at about $900 apiece. But an official said after the controversy broke that the district was returning them to the manufacturer as part of a money-back guarantee.

New Caney ISD police chief Dennis Doerge said the district returned its Quadro Tracker recently for a refund, though he declined to say why. Doerge, who had once praised the device as a deterrent to mischief, said that his superintendent had asked him not to comment further.

Heartfield on Monday also expressed concern that continued use of the devices could lead to violations of the constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The possible civil rights threat was a key argument brought by federal prosecutors.

"If a police officer attempts to use the Quadro Tracker properly, the device's antenna could swing towards a person, automobile, container, house, etc. by the forces of gravity, inertia or another outside agency," the judge said.

"The device would, in effect, improperly implicate the person or object and provide the officer with probable cause to search."

U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford said his office will now concentrate on an ongoing criminal fraud investigation against Quadro officials, and he hinted that action in the case could be announced "in the near future."

Robert Lyles, the Charleston, S.C., attorney representing Quadro, said he was disappointed by the ruling.

"The fight has been a very difficult one for Quadro," Lyles said. "They were essentially shut down in January. They have been expending their time ... fighting this thing. Now they've got to sit down and decide what they can do."

Lyles said an appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans was likely, adding that Quadro continues to maintain the effectiveness of its devices.

While the company was under FBI investigation, Quadro invited authorities to study its devices and offered a money-back guarantee to any displeased customers, Lyles 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.

According to marketing literature, the tracker's user simply inserts a "locator card" in the device to find drugs, weapons and even specific people. During this month's hearing, government experts in physics testified that there was no scientific basis to believe the tracker works.