Second Chance Body Armor’s former president settles False Claims Act allegations

by Ben Vernia | July 16th, 2018

In a long-running civil fraud case alleging defective bulletproof fibers used in body armor vests purchased by police forces with federal funds, the former president of Second Chance Body Armor has agreed to pay $125,000 outright, and forfeit his interest in $1.2 million in frozen funds, the Department of Justice announced on July 16. According to DOJ’s press release:

Richard C. Davis, the founder and former president and CEO of Michigan-based Second Chance Body Armor, Inc., agreed to resolve claims under the False Claims Act in connection with his role in the sale of defective Zylon bullet-proof vests purchased by the United States for federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, the Justice Department announced today. Mr. Davis will relinquish his interest in $1.2 million in assets previously frozen by the United States and will pay an additional $125,000 to the United States.  This settlement is based on Mr. Davis’ ability to pay.

Second Chance sold body armor to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies reimbursed by the Department of Justice’s Bulletproof Vest Partnership (BVP) program and to federal agencies under contracts with the General Services Administration. The United States alleged that Second Chance’s vests were defective due to the loss of their ballistic capability when exposed to heat and humidity. The United States also alleged that by 2001, Davis was aware that Second Chance’s Zylon body armor was degrading at what he described as a “disappointing” rate.

The United States further alleged that, rather than using a $6 million payment from Toyobo Co. Ltd., the manufacturer of Zylon fiber, to fix the degradation problem, Second Chance pocketed the money and Davis and other Second Chance owners began meeting with various investment bankers in an effort to sell Second Chance. These efforts to sell the company allegedly stopped after a Forest Hills, Pennsylvania police officer was shot through his Second Chance Zylon vest in June 2003. Second Chance filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and was liquidated.

Subsequent tests by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) of Zylon-containing vests found that more than 50 percent of used vests could not stop bullets that they had been certified to stop. The performance of Second Chance Zylon vests were reported to be among the worst.  The NIJ removed all Zylon-containing vests from its list of compliant products, and Zylon is no longer used in ballistic vests.

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The settlement resolves, in part, allegations filed in a lawsuit by Aaron Westrick, Ph.D., a former employee of Second Chance, under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery. The Act also allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in this case as to the allegations against Davis. Dr. Westrick will receive $28,750 plus a share of whatever the United States ultimately recovers from the previously frozen funds.

This settlement is part of a larger investigation of the body armor industry’s use of Zylon.  The United States has previously recovered over $132 million from 18 corporations and individuals who participated in the sale of Zylon body armor. The Civil Division has transferred over $22 million of these recovered funds to the BVP program to replace BVP funds which had been used to purchase Zylon vests. The funds transferred to the BVP program will be used to fund the purchase of additional ballistic-resistant vests for state, local and tribal law enforcement officers. The United States is continuing to pursue claims against Honeywell International Inc., which allegedly sold a laminated version of Zylon for use in police armor.

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DOJ also announced that the whistleblower, a former employee of Second Chance, will receive $28,750 from the $125,000 settlement payment (a 23% relator’s share), along with a portion of the previously frozen funds.

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