US sues Japanese body armor manufacturer

Updated: 2007-06-28 08:45
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DETROIT - The federal government is suing a Japanese manufacturer it claims supplied defective material found in 100,000 bulletproof vests used by US law enforcement officials.

A False Claims Act lawsuit has been filed against Osaka-based Toyobo Co. Ltd. and its American subsidiary, Toyobo America Inc.

Federal officials claim from 1999 to 2005 Toyobo manufactured and marketed Zylon, a polymer fiber used in the manufacture of bulletproof vests, despite knowing the fiber was defective and the company's manufacturing process was flawed. The lawsuit alleges the defective material reduced the strength of the vests and claims the company knew that Zylon degraded much faster than it had disclosed.

The vests were sold to a variety of body armor manufacturers, including Central Lake, Michigan-based Second Chance Body Armor Inc., and were then purchased using federal funds by federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, according to the US Justice Department.

"The knowing provision of defective material for use in the bulletproof vests worn by our federal agents and other law enforcement officers is more than just a fraud on the US Treasury," said Peter D. Keisler, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division. "Toyobo's conduct here put the lives of hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers at risk."

Toyobo officials said they believe the charges "are without basis" and mimic earlier allegations against Second Chance.

"Toyobo's actions were proper and prompt and the company was not involved in the design, engineering, production, or sale of the armored manufacturers' vests," Toyobo spokesman Kent Jarrell said Wednesday night in an e-mail response to The Associated Press.

He said in 2001 Toyobo began aging tests on Zylon and reported results to body armor manufacturers. Jarrell said the company asked manufacturers to consider the data when designing, producing and testing their vests.

Toyobo also claims it urged all manufacturers to inform their customers of the test results.

"This company allowed its material, Zylon, to be used to make soft body armor without making the law enforcement officers aware of its deficiencies," said Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police. "They not only defrauded the agencies which purchased these vests, they put the lives of men and women at risk."

Previously, the United States intervened against Toyobo and Second Chance Body Armor in a separate False Claims Act lawsuit stemming from defective Zylon bulletproof vests sold by Second Chance.

In 2005, Toyobo agreed to pay $29 million to settle a class-action suit by police officers and departments across the country that used Second Chance vests.