August 08, 2009

Native blew whistle on Northrop

Florence Foster dies at 68; whistle-blower shed light on falsified tests of cruise missiles

Foster revealed unsafe practices she saw as a Northrop Corp. electronics technician in the '80s. The firm pleaded guilty to 34 felony counts of fraud and paid fines of $17 million.

By Valerie J. Nelson
Florence Foster, an electronics technician who blew the whistle on a tiny Los Angeles-area outpost of Northrop Corp., which led to a massive criminal case involving the falsification of tests on cruise missiles, has died. She was 68.

Foster died July 30 of renal failure at a Covina hospital, said her daughter, Jolene C. Vargas.

After becoming one of about 30 employees in 1983 at a small division of Northrop, located in El Monte and then Pomona, Foster quickly knew "something was terribly wrong," she told The Times several years later.

Worried that nuclear weapons with faulty guidance systems destined for the Air Force "could be the start of World War III," Foster mustered the courage to speak up about what she witnessed at Northrop's Western Services Department, she said in a 1989 Times interview.
And:She was born Florence Darlene Castaneda on Sept. 16, 1940, in Wapato, Wash., the fifth of 10 children of Rhodie Rose Shincis and Frank Acosta, a farmer.

Foster was a direct descendant of Abram B. Burnett, a 19th-century chief of the Potawatomi tribe known for his mediation skills.
Comment:  I was working at Northrop when this scandal happened--at the corporate office in El Segundo, not in El Monte. But I don't remember anything about it. I don't think I ever knew about Foster's role.

Below:  "After blowing the whistle on fraudulent practices at Northrop Corp., Florence Foster began promoting her Native American culture. She rode Countrywide's 'First Americans' float in the 2001 Rose Parade." (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

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