United States files suit against First Choice Armor

According to a Department of Justice press release issued late Tuesday, a False Claims Act  lawsuit has been filed against First Choice Armor & Equipment Inc. and its founder, Edward Dovner. The plaintiff in the case is the United States of America — at the heart of the suit, Zylon.

The United States alleges that at the same time First Choice was selling its Zylon body armor, “the company and its founder knew of significant manufacturing and degradation problems in the Zylon fiber that rendered the material unsafe for ballistic use. In fact, when the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice tested eight of First Choice's bullet-proof vests in 2005, all failed,” according to the DOJ press release.

Dan Walsh, President of First Choice, responded today in a written statement obtained by PoliceOne: “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. We stand behind the safety of every body armor product we manufacture and intend to further demonstrate this and defend ourselves in Court.”

Walsh emphasized in his written statement that First Choice seeks to ensure the safety and well-being of police and military personnel who wear their armor. “All First Choice body armor has been certified by the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the United States Department of Justice. 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models that contained the component Zylon — made by Toyobo — and that were discontinued by First Choice in 2005 and withdrawn from the market.”

Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice said in the press announcement: “By providing defective bullet-proof vests to the nation’s law enforcement officers, First Choice put the lives of those officers at risk. The government’s investigation has determined that bullet-proof vest manufacturers, such as First Choice, wasted taxpayer dollars by failing to address these problems even after they were warned about them.”

The United States is already pursuing lawsuits against Toyobo Co., the manufacturer of the Zylon fiber used in the First Choice body armor, as well as Second Chance Body Armor and Honeywell International Inc., two other companies that manufactured Zylon vests or components for those vests. 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.

“Because of its light weight and flexibility, many of our customers wanted the ability to choose a Zylon-based vest similar to those manufactured by some of our competitors,” Walsh’s statement reads. “First Choice manufactured a few models that contained Zylon and, like other domestic body armor manufacturers, relied on representations and scientific information provided to First Choice by Toyobo Co. Ltd. and Toyobo America. ... Unfortunately, much of the information provided by Toyobo turned out to be false. 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. First Choice discontinued use and sale of Zylon-containing products in 2005.”

The lawsuit announced yesterday by the United States takes the somewhat unusual step of targeting not just the First Choice Armor & Equipment Inc., but two of the company’s principals: founder Edward Dovner and his wife, Karen Herman, who serves as First Choice’s president.

The DOJ announcement indicates that United States is suing Dovner and Herman for “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, Mr. Dovner and Ms. Herman removed more than $5 million from First Choice.” the DOJ document said.

Police1 recently presented a detailed look at the science and technology of body armor meeting the new .06 standard. We encourage you to check that out, as well as the numerous other resources available regarding the latest in police body armor.

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