As of 10-31-03, I've re-posted the Berkut/EZ construction article here, for the composite information it contains, but otherwise... Do not email me on the Berkut subject. All evidence is locked away, and I am DONE. This page is only being made available to prevent others from experiencing what I experienced. Designers beware.
2003 was a tremendous learning experience for me, and for many others. The extremely short version of the story is:
A guy with virtually no RC experience started a new RC model company, after buying the rights to a few previously-manufactured kits. He enticed me into doing some work for him, based on the idea that he would adopt most of my designs on my web site at that time as his new "catalog". This seemed like a chance to get my projects completed faster, and also get them kitted, and into the hands of other RC modelers. Of course, I thought it was a great opportunity, and to help him get started, I offered to do the first of these projects at a discounted rate. A year later, this guy (Val'a Fusco) has screwed a tremendous number of people out of a lot of money, and disappeared. If you're not familiar with this story, you can view the Fusco-related discussions on RC Universe. (two separate threads) You can also view some of the earliest threads regarding suspicions of others about a possible Fusco scam on, at RC Groups. The design article on the specific project is on my "Reviews" page, here.
In July of 2002, I began receiving very nice emails from a couple of guys who were considering buying a well-known company who manufactured some well-known kits of the "Long EZ" and the "Quickie". I leave the "well-known company" and the "other person" out of this, because they had no part in the rest of the story. In fact, I recently tried to email the "other person", and got a "delivery failed" notification. So, this person may not even exist... It's possible that it was Val'a Fusco, using an alias, but who knows? The emails mostly were asking me if I thought that the inventory they would get (I saw the list.) was a good deal. It was! Shortly after that, I began getting email from Val'a Fusco, asking if I could do some CAD images, for the purpose of adding a "hi-tech" look to his web site. I never heard from the "other person" again, and all future communication was with Val'a Fusco alone. I did that work, in exchange for a couple of kits. (more on that later)
Next, Val'a Fusco proposed the idea of adding at least one other kit to his new kit line, and I designed a trainer-type aircraft for him to look at. A plan was then formed for me to create plugs, molds, parts, etc., for this trainer. Before that could materialize, Val'a Fusco changed his mind, and decided to create a giant scale (33%) version of the Long EZ instead...later changed to the "Berkut" variant of that aircraft. As I mentioned above, I offered to do this first project at about 60% of what I should have charged, using a pretty simple arrangement. He would pay me a (low!) bi-weekly salary until the project was done, and would pay for the supplies to create the parts, and the shipping back and forth. At the end of the project, there was a "buyout cost", which would then give him the exclusive rights to sell the kit, with me being credited as the designer. I did not ask for royalties on future sales, but only to be paid for the work.
One thing that Val'a Fusco tried early on nearly ended our agreement entirely. He tried to "big time" me into accepting stock in the company, (worthless) making me a "board member", and so on. He also mentioned the concept of "intellectual property". A simple example is this: Suppose you're working for Boeing, and you invent something cool. Well, typically, Boeing would then own your idea, and would not necessarily be bound to reward you for that. Having already been screwed that way, as a musician, I went through the roof! I immediately told Val'a Fusco that if he thought I'd be working that way, he needed someone else. I insisted on working on a project-by-project basis, as an independent contractor, and that is what I suggest you do. If I had agreed to what he wanted, I would then "officially" be part of this whole mess, as part of his company, and it would've ruined me entirely. Be very careful about who you get involved with!
Given a few variables, I suggested to Val'a Fusco that I could probably finalize the design, produce and ship the tooling, do the test flights and construction article, and have the plane production-ready, in about 90 days. This timeline depended on the "variables" mentioned above. The biggest issue was that the timeline depended on me having the supplies I needed, when I needed them. (mostly composite materials and epoxy) It also depended on him paying me on time, so I didn't have to do other work, and could concentrate on this project full time. That wasn't always the case.
I also warned him that like any other project, there might be issues that could delay us. You should always expect some of these when you're "designing as you go". For example, what if one of the prototypes crashed, or was damaged? I would have to build another one, and obviously that would delay us too. The (Reynolds numbers) data on the expected performance of the scale canard was in question, since even at 1/3rd scale, it was small. There was an issue with the strange (70-degree retraction angle) main landing gear. My advice to Val'a Fusco was always to do what I did with my other projects, which is to publish almost-daily reports on my web site, showing the actual progress of the prototype. That way, if one of these delays came up, everyone could see and understand, and they wouldn't be so impatient.
Disregarding all these things, Val'a Fusco began advertising the project's 90-day delivery date the next day, and so from day one, we were behind schedule. Adding to that, the aircraft has many "quirks", and there were delays in completing it that no one could have predicted. Val'a Fusco refused to "come clean" with the public about this, so instead, he began making excuses about the delays that eventually everyone saw through. In the meantime though, he was accepting (and apparently spending) money for the kits. By doing this, he ruined his reputation before the project was even completed, and was accused by many participants on public forums of fraud, etc.. During the final stages of my work, I began to suspect what was going on, and "resigned" on any future projects. I also made a public announcement on my web site, and on RC Universe, Once Val'a Fusco made it clear that he wasn't going to pay me, I "went public" to try and warn everybody, and to hopefully put pressure on Val'a Fusco to follow through honestly.
When we finally got to the point of production, Val'a Fusco simply abandoned the project, the designer, (me) his distributors, his customers, and became "invisible". As of today, none of us know where he is, or how to reach him. During this same time, he stopped paying me, which breached our contract. Then, to top it off, he illegally sold the exclusive rights to produce the kit (which he doesn't even own!) to one of his distributors. Recovery efforts are under way, and many of us have considered trying to reproduce this kit. Because of the legal issues, the parts being spread out among several individuals, all the time and money already lost, and the time and money it would take to reconstruct this project, I don't really expect it to happen. The few contacts I've had so far don't convince me that anything genuine will ever come of that idea.
I've created a couple of PDF documents you can download, if you want to read more details. They are only a small portion of the evidence, but will tell the story. To download a PDF containing a series of emails between Val'a Fusco and I, (968k) click here. The PDF is current up to 09-01-03. To download a separate PDF document (only 68k) containing a partial list of many other broken promises, click here.
What have I learned from all of this?
If you're a designer, and find yourself in a position like I was at the beginning of this project, make sure you do some background checking on the person who is making the proposal, and make sure that you have a good contract, with definite penalties in place, should something go wrong. I also suggest that as a designer, you never sell the "exclusive rights" to your work. Rather, make an agreement based on "non-exclusive" rights, which basically states that this person can sell the kit, but you always own the design, should anything go wrong. (Or, if you prefer, just settle for a LOT of money.)
Be aware that it's not just "about you". In the case of this project, the list of people who were screwed by Val'a Fusco extends to distributors and customers, and also damages the prospect of future customers, whether they risked any money or not. When a scam is executed, many people end up being affected, so give that some serious thought before you proceed. Finally, be precise about the nature of any "non-disclosure" agreements. Protecting proprietary company secrets is one thing, but make sure that this clause does not prevent you from disclosing any dishonest behavior to the public, should you later discover it, as I did.
When you work hard to design and build a project, you should be paid appropriately for your work. Don't let any crook "big time" you into selling yourself cheap, and don't let your own ego suck you into an agreement you won't like, later.
There are many of us that have been screwed out of hard work and money by this guy, but for the time being, he appears to have gotten away. So until someone finds him and brings him to justice, I don't intend to spend any more time on this. I've locked up all of my Fusco-related evidence at a safe remote location, and am going back to where I was a year ago, to restart on my other projects and recover financially. Good luck to everyone involved.
- Mike James -