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One year ago: Florence Foster

July 30, 2010 |  7:00 am

Florence Florence Foster was 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. She died one year ago.

To Foster, who worked for Northrop, much about the corporation's operation seemed sloppy and out-of-kilter with mainstream aerospace industry practices

Northrop produced weapon systems for the military, and Foster worried that nuclear weapons with faulty guidance systems destined for the Air Force "could be the start of World War III."

Despite being brushed off by both her supervisor and the FBI, she was eventually able to arrange a meeting with agents from the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations. This and subsequent meetings eventually led the Department of Justice to file criminal charges against Northrop and three of its officials.

Northrop shut down its El Monte facility in 1987 and acknowledged that the operation was not following company procedures. In 1990, Northrop pleaded guilty to 34 felony counts of fraud in the case and paid fines of $17 million.

An interesting tidbit: Foster was a direct descendant of Abram B. Burnett, a 19th century chief of the Potawatomi tribe known for his mediation skills. In 2001, Foster -- in full Native American attire -- waved to Rose Parade crowds from a float honoring "The First Americans."

For more, read Florence Foster's obituary by The Times.

--Michael Farr

Photo: Florence Foster rides Countrywide's "First Americans" float in the 2001 Rose Parade. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times