Justice probes maker of defective bulletproof vests By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY 1 hour, 48 minutes ago The Justice Department has launched a criminal probe into whether a company knowingly provided defective bulletproof vests to President Bush, first lady Laura Bush and the Defense Department, two federal law enforcement officials said Monday. The officials, who declined to be named because they are prohibited from commenting on ongoing investigations, said Second Chance Body Armor Inc. is being investigated for possible fraud. One official said the probe could involve more serious charges if it is determined the company - the nation's largest maker of body armor - knew that the vests were unsafe. The Justice Department inquiry was first reported Monday by the Associated Press. Problems came to light two years ago when the Michigan-based company recalled 130,000 vests because of degradation problems with Zylon, a bullet-resistant fabric used in its vests. The vests were upgraded and returned. But in June the company issued a bulletin to police departments warning that its vests could fail and result in "serious injury or death." It estimated that about 100,000 of its vests remained in circulation. Among the past buyers of the vests was the Secret Service, according to a deposition given this month by the company's former research chief, Aaron Westrick. Westrick said the Secret Service bought the vests for its agents and for the president and first lady beginning with the 2001 inauguration. The Secret Service said it would not discuss its security measures for the Bushes. Also a customer was the Pentagon, which bought vests for elite troops, Westrick said. Douglas Wagner, a lawyer representing Second Chance in its civil litigation, said the company would cooperate with the government's inquiry. "Our main message has been that the Zylon-based body armor is defective and needs to be replaced," Wagner said. The Westrick deposition, a portion of which was obtained by USA TODAY, involves a lawsuit filed by the family of a California police officer who was killed in 2003 while wearing one of the company's vests. Westrick testified in the deposition that he had told Second Chance in a 2001 memo about problems with the vests. "Lives and credibility are at stake," Westrick wrote in urging the company to notify customers of the degradation problem. The company is now in federal bankruptcy court and dealing with 11 lawsuits over the quality of the vests. One of the lawsuits has been joined by the Justice Department.