March 16 (UPI) — Japanese company Toyobo and its U.S. subsidiary agreed to pay $66 million in a settlement with the U.S. government for selling defective bulletproof vests to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, the Justice Department announced Thursday.
Between at least 2001 and 2005, Toyobo knew that its bulletproof material, Zylon, degraded quickly in normal heat and humidity, which made it unfit for use in bulletproof vests, according to the settlement.
Despite this knowledge, the company actively marketed the material for use in bulletproof vests. And in 2003, when Second Chance Body Armor recalled some of its vests containing Zylon, Toyobo tried to influence other companies to keep selling their Zylon-containing vests.
The controversy over the effectiveness of Zylon led to a study by the National Institute of Justice that found more than 50 percent of Zylon-containing bulletproof vests couldn’t stop a bullet, which led to the official decertification of the material.
“Bulletproof vests are sometimes what stands between a police officer and death,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “Selling material for these vests that one knows to be defective is dishonest, and risks the lives of the men and women who serve to protect us. The Department of Justice is committed to the protection of our law enforcement officers, and today’s resolution sends another clear message that we will not tolerate those who put our first responders in harm’s way.”
The settlement also resolves a lawsuit against Toyobo filed by Dr. Aaron Westrick, a former Second Chance employee. Westrick filed a whistleblower complaint under the False Claims Act, which allows him to sue on behalf of the government and share in any settlement. As part of the settlement, he will receive $5,775,000.