Vested Interests

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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."

While 2005 profits have continued to be good for DHB and Point Blank -- on July 28 the company announced its 22nd consecutive quarter of increased earnings -- the year has been plagued by nagging quality concerns.

On January 3, 2005, the Southern States Police Benevolent Association (SSPBA) filed a class-action lawsuit against Point Blank in Broward Circuit Court, alleging that the company knew its body armor was potentially defective. The models of body armor in question all used Zylon, a synthetic fiber developed in Japan. Because of Zylon's ability to provide similar protection at less weight than Kevlar, the body armor industry in the late '90s embraced the new material. But in 2002, Toyobo, Zylon's developer, discovered that the material degraded in strength over time and particularly fast when exposed to heat. SSPBA alleged that Point Blank failed to notify customers that "under normal expected operating conditions, the vests would not meet the National Institute of Justice standards."

Point Blank body armor made with Zylon would degrade over time to such a point that lives could be endangered, Carter K. Lord, a ballistics expert in Sedalia, Colorado, claimed in an affidavit submitted as part of the lawsuit. "Law enforcement officers will be (and are) wearing vests which no longer can protect them from threat rounds being fired at them," Lord said.

In April, Point Blank settled the class-action lawsuit, agreeing to replace an estimated 2,609 pieces of body armor sold to law-enforcement agencies nationwide. As part of the settlement, which is worth an estimated $1.6 million, Point Blank did not admit wrongdoing and has since discontinued the use of Zylon.

"Did Point Blank know it was shipping unsafe body armor?" asks Grady Dukes, legal counsel for the SSPBA. "I think if you look at the settlement agreement, none of that is acknowledged. But that was certainly among our allegations in the initial complaint."

Calling the information classified, Point Blank VP Power would not say whether the company's military body armor, the Interceptor OTV, uses Zylon. But the body armor used by troops overseas does appear to have safety problems.

As early as July 19, 2004, according to memos originally obtained by the Army Times newspaper, the Marine Corps found "major quality assurance deficiencies within Point Blank." One month later, on August 24, 2004, the military rejected two orders from Point Blank after tests revealed that the vests did not meet safety requirements.

But at the time, the military faced a severe shortage of body armor. Under pressure to equip troops, Lt. Col. Gabriel Patricio in November 2004 requested that nine Point Blank orders that did not meet safety requirements be sent to troops overseas. "I understand and accept the increased risk posed by accepting the reduced protection," Patricio wrote in a memo to the military's head of contracting.

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Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson