The Department of Justice has sued First Choice Armor & Equipment Inc. and its founder, Edward Dovner, for submitting false claims about its bulletproof vests purchased for federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies.
The company, in a statement released Aug. 6, has denied that Zylon vests it produced from 2000-2005 were defective and said it would challenge the DOJ in court.
"At no time has any First Choice body armor vest failed to protect law enforcement officers, including those models that contained the component Zylon (made by Toyobo) and that were discontinued by First Choice in 2005 and withdrawn from the market," according to a statement from Dan Walsh, First Armor's president. "The claims asserted yesterday by the Department of Justice are completely without merit. Additionally, not a single First Choice vest has ever failed to protect the individual wearing it."
First Choice, which manufactured and sold bullet-proof vests containing Zylon fiber from 2000-2005, marketed its vests to law enforcement agencies as a thinner and more lightweight alternative to other bullet-proof vests.
The federal complaint alleges that the company and its founder knew of significant manufacturing and degradation problems in the Zylon fiber that rendered the material unsafe for ballistic use. When the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ) tested eight of First Choice's bullet-proof vests in 2005, all failed, according to the complaint.
"By providing defective bulletproof vests to the nation’s law enforcement officers, First Choice put the lives of those officers at risk," stated Tony West, assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. "The government’s investigation has determined that bulletproof vest manufacturers, such as First Choice, wasted taxpayer dollars by failing to address these problems even after they were warned about them."
The federal government is also pursuing legal action against the company's founders and Japanese manufacturer. The DOJ has sued Dovner and Karen Herman, Dovner's wife and First Choice’s president, for a fraudulent conveyance—a transfer of property that is made to swindle, hinder, or delay a creditor, or to put such property beyond his or her reach—in violation of the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act.
The government alleges that after learning of the investigation into Zylon bullet-proof vests, Dovner and Herman removed more than $5 million from First Choice. Dovner then purchased a Ferrari, a Maserati and a private jet through various shell companies.
The federal government is already pursuing lawsuits against Toyobo Co., the manufacturer of the Zylon fiber used in the First Choice bullet-proof vests, as well as Second Chance Body Armor and Honeywell International Inc., two other companies that manufactured Zylon vests or components for those vests.
In his statement, Walsh said Toyobo misled First Armor.
"Unfortunately, much of the information provided by Toyobo turned out to be false," he said. "In fact, the Department of Justice has sued the Toyobo entities in part for supplying false information to, and concealing material information from, U.S. based armor manufacturers, including First Choice."
The government has previously settled for more than $47 million with five other entities that allegedly were involved in the manufacture or sale of defective Zylon vests.