Vested Interests

War has been good for Pompano Beach's Point Blank Body Armor

U.S. military troops in Afghanistan reported similar problems. According to a Department of Defense report, 43 percent of soldiers in Operation Enduring Freedom complained that Point Blank's body armor "hindered their mobility." Sizing seemed to be a problem, the report concluded. "One soldier was shot through the side and the bullet passed between the front and rear armor by the sizing strap..." the report noted. "Soldiers complained that the armholes are too small and that they lose circulation."

But even more startling was the fact that Point Blank officials not only knew of quality and sizing concerns but they tacitly condoned the sale of defective or improperly sized body armor, according to 17 sworn affidavits filed by workers in the company's Oakland Park factory. Among the charges:

Umberto de la Cruz, a ten-year employee, claimed that the company sent him to a class on quality control. "I do not know why they had me go through this class," he said. "I've never really been able to use what I learned. I worked nearly two months on quality control in the production line. They stopped having me do that because I found too many quality control problems. Sandra Hatfield would tell people that if [the order] has to go out, then it goes out." De la Cruz also claimed that sizing labels would be changed to fill orders and that defective body armor was knowingly sent to the military. He said: "We shipped an order of around 80 FSBE [Full Spectrum Battle Equipment] vests to the U.S. military in Arlington, Virginia. Where they go after that I do not know. What I do know is that the ballistics, which is the Kevlar protective fabric, was not cut to fit into the shoulders of the outer shell. This leaves the shoulders exposed to bullets getting through the vest. I brought this to the attention of Wayne Kolbeck, the quality control manager. Kolbeck said the order had to be there the next day, so let it go like that. Before the shipment and after, they sent a lot of orders out bad like this."

U.S. soldiers help unload boxes of body armor to be used by Iraqi police in Mosul.
U.S. Army
U.S. soldiers help unload boxes of body armor to be used by Iraqi police in Mosul.
At Point Blank's Pompano Beach headquarters, a plaque honors soldiers and police officers killed in the line of duty.
Colby Katz
At Point Blank's Pompano Beach headquarters, a plaque honors soldiers and police officers killed in the line of duty.

Ana Garcia, a four-year employee of the company who worked in quality control, claimed that she once inspected 300 to 400 Interceptor OTVs and found that they were labeled "large" despite having medium-sized collars. "I said to Ricky [Brown, the supervisor] that these collars are not made well because the collars are smaller than the jacket," she said. "Ricky went to the office and returned and told me that the vests were OK, that they should pass."

Milagros Santos, who worked at the company for six years sewing jackets, said she would often complain to management that the "ballistics," the protective Kevlar material, were too large or small for the vests into which they needed to be sewed. "When it's cut too large, we try to fix it with scissors," Santos said of the Kevlar plate. "When it is too small, we sew it as best we can. However, we still send out a lot of work which is too large or too small."

Manuela Negreira, who worked at the company for five years sewing jackets, said she would often be ordered to sew small-sized ballistics into medium-sized vests. "When the ballistic is smaller than the cover, it moves around," she said. "I don't think it provides adequate protection."

Miguel Paredes, a machine operator who worked at the company in 1997, claimed that collar buttons often wouldn't snap together correctly and that they routinely changed size tags to fit orders. "I have pointed this out to Joe Aldona, the shipping supervisor," Paredes said. "Joe told me to close my mouth."

Blanca Mas, who worked at Point Blank in October 2001, said it was her job to change size labels. "Sometimes I erase the old size with alcohol, and I use a stamp to place a new size on the vest," she said.

On May 24, 2004, U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra dismissed Point Blank's defamation claims against UNITE. Dan Power, Point Blank's vice president of marketing, recently declined to discuss quality issues at the company, claiming that government contracts prevent him from discussing how body armor is manufactured. "All I will say is that we make the best body armor in the world."

But quality concerns haven't gone away.

As evidence that DHB Industries' Point Blank Body Armor has profited substantially from military engagements around the globe, taxpayers need only look at the company's 2004 Christmas party. Held on Singer Island in Palm Beach County, the 50-person affair rewarded Point Blank's most loyal employees and customers.

It cost the company $207,000, or roughly $4,000 per head, according to court records filed in Miami-Dade County. The host of the party was CEO Brooks, who that year earned $70 million, plus $186 million in company stock sales.

"David H. Brooks is an interesting story," says Sarah Anderson of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Policy Studies. Anderson recently co-wrote a study examining the dramatic rise of executive compensation at defense contractors since 9/11. "For some large companies, such as Halliburton, the CEOs would be extremely wealthy even if a war wasn't going on," Anderson says. "But with David H. Brooks, it's clear he's made his millions from this war. We haven't had adequate oversight with what's happening with these defense companies."

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