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Settlement: Whistleblower reveals defective bulletproof vests

It was recently reported that a former employee of Second Chance Body Armor, Inc., blew the whistle on that company's sales of defective Zylon bulletproof vests to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies through the Justice Department's Bulletproof Vest Partnership program and contracts with the General Services Administration. Unfortunately, according to the DOJ, these vests lost their ballistic capability when they were exposed to heat and humidity.

According to the government, Second Chance received $6 million from Toyobo Co., Ltd., the manufacturer of Zylon fiber, which was meant to help correct the degradation issue. Instead of using the money for that purpose, however, the owners of Second Chance allegedly pocketed the money and began meeting with investment bankers in an effort to sell the company.

Those efforts apparently came too late for the owners. In 2003, a Pennsylvania police officer was shot through his Second Chance Zylon vest, which led to Second Chance's bankruptcy the following year.

Later, National Institute of Justice tests showed that over 50 percent of vests containing Zylon could not stop the bullets they had been certified to stop. Second Chance Zylon vests reportedly performed among the worst. The Institute then stuck Zylon-containing vests from its compliant products list. Zylon is no longer used in bulletproof vests.

The Justice Department has reached a settlement with the founder and former head of Second Chance, who has agreed to voluntarily resolve the False Claims Act allegations brought by the whistleblower. The settlement is based on his ability to pay, so he will pay $125,000 to the U.S. and relinquish his interest in $1.2 million in frozen assets.

Under the False Claims Act, private-citizen whistleblowers can receive a substantial portion of any recovery when they blow the whistle on fraud, waste or abuse in government contracts. Here, the whistleblower will receive at least $28,750 and will be given a share in whatever the government is able to recover from the $1.2 million.

This settlement is part of an ongoing investigation into the use of Zylon fiber in the body armor industry. The government has already collected over $132 million from as many as 18 corporations and individuals who participated in the sale of body armor containing Zylon. Some $22 million has been transferred to the Bulletproof Vest Partnership program and will be used to fund new bulletproof vests for law enforcement agencies.

"Marketing faulty protective gear to law enforcement officers who put themselves in the line of fire is an unconscionable act and a betrayal of trust" said the head of the Bureau of Justice Assistance. "Our unwavering priority is to protect our officers as they keep our communities safe."

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