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RETURNING FROM PARTS UNKNOWN

AN FBI PROBE INTO STOLEN AIRPLANE PARTS SENT THESE BROTHERS INTO A TAILSPIN.

At the same time the FBI was investigating the Chryslers' ties to Wann, Continental Airlines seemed determined to extract its share of retribution--never mind that no one had been indicted yet. In early 1989 the airline filed a lawsuit against both the Chryslers and Wann, asking for $6 million in damages.

A year later--after various counterclaims by Wann and the Chryslers--the company dropped its claims and signed a settlement agreement with the Chryslers, in which Continental and the brothers both agreed not to sue each other. (Continental, through one of its local attorneys, Christian Onsager, declines to answer any questions about the case.)

The agreement mentioned nothing about Continental's intention to retrieve the parts the Chryslers had bought from Wann. Concluding that they were then free to lay claim to the merchandise for which they'd paid $172,000, the brothers in September 1990 officially asked that the FBI return the parts to them when it completed its investigation.

Continental disagreed with that interpretation of the settlement agreement, however. A month later the company's lawyers filed a "clarification" of the agreement, laying its own claim to the nearly five dozen unsold parts. Further complicating matters, the airline in December 1990 filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws, effectively putting any further legal wrangling on hold.

Meanwhile, the Chryslers were cooperating with prosecutors. Indeed, their careful record keeping was doing wonders for the FBI's case against Wann. Barry had kept all the boxes in which Wann's parts had been delivered, as well as the canceled checks he had made out to Wann. Even better for the FBI, Sheldon not only had kept the canceled checks; he also had written down the serial and part numbers on them for each of the items he purchased from Wann.

Thanks to the Chryslers' compelling testimony and voluminous records, Wann was indicted in November 1991, and Conner easily convinced a jury of his guilt during the August 1992 trial. It took the U.S. District Court jury only about three hours to nail Wann on fourteen counts of theft. "Had it not been for the two of us voluntarily testifying against Wann," Sheldon points out, "this guy could still conceivably be at Continental, ripping them off."

Wann was sentenced to three years in federal prison. According to federal prison officials, he is eligible for parole this November.

The Chrysler brothers will be paying their debt for some time to come. The business they lost as a result of the FBI's four-year investigation, as well as the $125,000 they calculate they racked up in legal fees fighting Continental, took a huge financial toll. Barry lost his house and an airplane. Last November, Sheldon, who already had mortgaged his house to cover the bills, shut down his radio business.

Despite the losses, the brothers had continued to hold out hope that a bankruptcy court in Delaware would decide they were entitled to the aircraft parts confiscated by the FBI in 1987. Last month, however, the Chryslers' nearly decade-long odyssey through the justice system ended with discouraging news. On February 14, exactly seven years after the FBI showed up on Barry Chrysler's doorstep, a judge ordered that the aircraft parts the Chryslers purchased from Wann be returned to Continental.

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