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

Dr. Aaron Westrick (Image courtesy of LinkedIn)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.).  


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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