Faulty Bulletproof Vest Case Featured on CBS's "Whistleblower" Series

On Friday, August 17, 2018 at 10/9c, the CBS summer standout series "Whistleblower" will feature the captivating story of Dr. Aaron Westrick, a whistleblower represented by Washington, D.C. qui tam attorney Stephen M. Kohn. Westrick went up against Japanese Fiber Manufacturer Toyobo and Second Chance Body Armor, the largest body armor manufacturer in the U.S. at the time, in a False Claims Act case that lasted 14 years. The qui tam lawsuit resulted in the United States recouping millions of taxpayer dollars, Toyobo alone paying $66 million to resolve claims of fraud brought by Westrick and pursued by Kohn.

CBS publicity materials describe "Whistleblower" as taking "a thrilling look into the real-life David vs. Goliath stories of heroic people who put everything on the line in order to expose illegal and often dangerous wrongdoing when major corporations rip off U.S. taxpayers."
"The CBS Whistleblower story demonstrates the courage and strength shown by Dr. Westick to face off against huge corporations to save lives," said Kohn who has a long history of representing qui tam whistleblowers and has helped establish important whistleblower protections. The show is hosted by Alex Ferrer, a former judge and police officer. According to the CBS website, each episode "introduces cases in which ordinary people step up to do the extraordinary by risking their careers, their families and even their lives to ensure others are not harmed or killed by unchecked, unethical corporate greed."
Dr. Westrick was the first official in the body armor industry to blow the whistle on bullet proof vests made from a material known as Zylon.  His disclosures resulted in the decertification of Zylon vests by the National Institute for Justice and millions of dollars in sanctions obtained from Second Chance Body Armor ("SCBA") and Toyobo, the Japanese company that manufactured the Zylon material.  Dr. Westrick also testified in the wrongful death case of Officer Tony Zeppetella, who was shot while wearing a Zylon vest.  Dr. Westrick's testimony was the critical evidence that resulted in the jury awarding Zeppetella's widow $1.5 million in damages based on the failure of SCBA and Toyobo to warn police officers of the dangers from Zylon.  
Westrick's disclosures ultimately resulted in the defective vests being forced off the market saving the lives of countless police officers, military and first responders. United States ex rel. Westrick v. Second Chance Body Armor, Inc., et al. (D.D.C. No. 04-0280 PLF).
In a ceremony marking National Whistleblower Appreciation Day, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley, pointed to the Westrick case stating: "When you don't listen to whistleblowers like Dr. Westrick, that's when the regrets come. Because of his remarkable courage, the product was pulled from the market, and no doubt countless lives saved. But think about it this: what if his company had listened to him in the first place? Times would have turned out very differently for the two brave officers whose vests failed them." 
"Dr. Westrick is a true American hero," said Kohn. "He lost his job and career in the body armor industry by exposing Zylon safety risks. He provided documents and testimony justifying the removal of Zylon vests from the market, and compensation to states and the federal government due to the immoral sale of Zylon vests." Westrick partnered with whistleblower attorneys Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto, LLP and the National Whistleblower Center to pursue his qui tam lawsuit to a successful end for the taxpayers and public safety.
"Toyobo's 13-year legal battle took a major toll on Dr. Westrick and his entire family. His three children grew up under the financial stress caused by the termination and the emotional stress caused by the litigation, Kohn said.  "The False Claims Act was enacted to protect and reward whistleblowers like Dr. Westrick, who sacrifice for the public interest, save taxpayers millions of dollars, and ensure that products sold to front-line responders are safe."

Original Post

Michigan cop awarded $5.8 million for blowing whistle on defective body armor

An active-duty deputy sheriff for Charlevoix Country, Michigan with a Ph.D. from Wayne State University will collect nearly $6 million as part of a False Claims Act settlement, the Justice Department said.

Aaron Westrick alleged in a qui tam lawsuit that a Japanese company supplied defective Zylon fiber used to make bullet proof vests. The vests were bought by federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies.

Toyobo Co. Ltd. of Japan and its American subsidiary, Toyobo U.S.A. Inc., agreed to pay $66 million to resolve the allegations.

Dr. Westrick is also an associate professor of criminal justice at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

His company, Ballistic Armor Research Group, LLC., specializes in government consulting for armor research projects, according to Dr. Westrick's website.

From 1996 to 2004, Dr. Westrick worked for Second Chance Body Armor, Inc. as the director of research and tactical.

Second Chance recalled some of its Zylon-containing vests in late 2003 because of the defective materials.

After the recall, Toyobo "started a public relations campaign designed to influence other body armor manufacturers to keep selling Zylon-containing vests," according to the DOJ. 

"Toyobo’s actions delayed by several years the government’s efforts to determine the true extent of Zylon degradation," the DOJ said. 

In August 2005, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) completed a study of Zylon-containing vests and found that more than 50 percent of used vests could not stop bullets that they had been certified to stop. 

After that, the NIJ decertified all Zylon-containing vests.

The qui tam or whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act allows private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery. 

The False Claims Act also allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in 2005 in Dr. Westrick’s case. 

Dr. Westrick's share of Toyobo's $66 million settlement is $5.775 million.

The DOJ said the settlement did not determine liability.

The lawsuits were United States ex rel. Westrick v. Second Chance Body Armor, et al., No. 04-0280 (PLF) (D.D.C.) and United States v. Toyobo Co. Ltd., et al., No. 07-1144 (PLF) (D.D.C.).  

Wow, blast from the past; good for Westrick.

Zylon was amazing vest material as it was light, thin, flexible, and was rated to stop the very hot Win 9MM 127gr +p+, which was our duty load at the time, by Second Chance (2C) who had exclusive rights to it at that time.  1270fps from a P226 and 1440fps out of my MP5, this load was stopped cold by our very thin Level IIA vests and we were very happy with our new armor.   A few years later, in short order, a PA cop is wounded when a .40S&W penetrates his 2C IIA vest, then Zeppetella is killed with several 9MM rds thru his heavier2C Level II vest, and a Montana dep is wounded when a .45ACP penetrates his 2C IIA vest.

We immediately ran a test using the exact NIJ 9MM rd certified on the vest, 124 FMJ @ 1090fps and punched holes through two test vests; yup, American Eagle plinking ammo went right through those vests.  My chief allowed the test results out on the internet and things accelerated from there as I received hundreds of call and emails from LEOs, state attorney generals, etc. over the next year of so.  I believe that Erick was one of the earlier callers.

I had worn and studied body armor since 1978 and I can't remember an incident when a LEO was killed/injured by an armor failure from a projectile that was within the rating zone of the vest, so the rapid disintegration of the Zylon safety zone was very disturbing and the cover-up by Second Chance was sickening.  A bunch of folks should have gone to jail on that one.

I remember following this in 2005 and getting a zylon 2nd chance IIA issued to me.  We had done no research on it and when I brought the conversation up, I was told "then don't wear it".  So I didn't.  I stayed in my IIIA from 1999 until 2011.  I am well aware of my employers value of my hide. I appreciate the good Doctors efforts!  

Dusty black coat and a red right hand.

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