Robert La Penta
Ten years ago, Robert La Penta helped
oversee a company accused of passing missile secrets to the Chinese army. Today he
leads a government contractor at the forefront of identification and border control
technology. La Penta spent 15 years as senior vice president and controller at Loral
Corporation. He left just two months after a Chinese army space launch vehicle
crashed with a Loral satellite aboard, spawning an investigation that found Loral
engineers had been giving away missile secrets to China. He then launched L-3
Communications, and left just a month before it acquired Titan Corp., a defense
contractor implicated in detainee abuse in Iraq and bribery in West Africa. He is
now chairman of the board at L-1 Identity Solutions, a company that already holds
contracts at the State Department and Transportation Security Administrations to
build sensitive biometric identity card systems, and hopes to win government
contracts in border security, intelligence, and “identity management.”
La Penta spent 25 years with Loral Space & Communication and was a vice president from 1981 to 1996. In February 1996, a space launch vehicle belonging to the Chinese army crashed, destroying a Loral satellite it had aboard. An ensuing investigation accused Loral engineers of giving away missile secrets to China and Loral paid a $14 million civil fine. (Nevertheless, in 1998, President Clinton approved the sale of a Loral-made satellite to China. Loral was a major contributor to the Democratic party; Bernard Schwartz, the company’s chairman, was the single largest donor in 1996 at $632,000. Clinton’s critics accused him of approving Loral’s satellite launches in China when it had allegedly ignored security protocols, in return for Schwartz’s support.) The investigation eventually discovered that Chinese spies were working in U.S. weapons labs and stealing design information for nearly all of the components needed to launch a sophisticated nuclear attack on the U.S. In 2002, Loral paid a $14 million civil fine to the State Department without admitting whether or not it had illegally transferred missile technology to China.
In 1996, Loral sold its defense electronics and system integration businesses to Lockheed Martin for over $9 billion, and La Penta followed the group to Lockheed, where he bought out ten business units to form L-3 Communications. La Penta served as President, CFO, and director at L-3 from 1997 to 2005. In April 2005, he retired from L-3 to start L-1 Identity Solutions.
Just as La Penta was leaving L-3, the company acquired Titan Corp., a major defense contractor with several embarrassing episodes, including bribing the leaders of Benin, lying to the SEC, and abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. They were also the largest contributor to disgraced former Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who is in prison for accepting bribes from defense contractors.
L-1 Identity Solutions is a merger of two biometrics companies called Viisage and Identix. The companies pushed advances in facial identification and iris scans, and L-1 now stands to benefit greatly from the post 9/11 homeland security contract bonanza. L-1 is looking into Border Patrol and CIA contracts, and LaPenta boasted about having George Tenet on the board. Viisage and its subsidiaries arrived with contracts such as passport services for the US State Department, and a digital drivers’ license and identity card system from the State of Pennsylvania. Subsidiary IBT has contracts with TSA HAZMAT, State of Florida, and U.S. Dept. of Education. Viisage is bidding on “national ID, border crossings program, as well as other international civil ID programs and US Federal programs from the DOD, DOS, (DHF), Intelligence, identity management programs in civil agencies.”
Viisage goes international, too: they do electronic passport services for Iceland; passport, drivers’ licenses and other services for Brazil; and they are bidding on a National ID program for Saudi Arabia. Viisage has been buying up all kinds of smaller biometrics companies, some of which have contracts in Middle Eastern countries (Iridian has a UAE border control project).
La Penta is also the founder and CEO of L-1 Investment Partners. He sits on the boards of Core Software Technologies and Leap Wireless International, Inc.
- http://www.forbes.com/finance/mktguideapps/personinfo/FromPersonIdPersonTear sheet.jhtml?passedPersonId=897898