Federal inmates were given the job of making helmets for U.S. soldiers. They made thousands of defective combat helmets. These very helmets were then issued to active service members. The U.S. Army recalled 44,000 helmets in 2010. Some of which were protecting the heads of soldiers deployed in Afghanistan.
The total amount of helmets recalled to date tops 126,000. The losses from the defective gear came to nearly $19.1 million.
The Justice Department has reached a settlement with ArmorSource. ArmorSource is an Ohio defense contractor which held the production contract with the Military. ArmorSource has agreed to pay $3 million for producing defective equipment under the False Claims Act.
Reports said prisoners were using ‘makeshift hatchets and a screw shoved through a piece of wood among other rudimentary tools’ to create the faulty Kevlar combat helmets. created severe blowback for ArmorSource.
According to an inspector general report, ‘Serial numbers were changed, fragments of Kevlar and dust were used to fill parts of the helmets, inspectors did not conduct reviews, lacked training and submitted false reports in which the helmets tested well.’
“At least in one instance an inspector certified the lots as being inspected over a fax machine,” the report said.
“The U.S. government relies on contractors to manufacture equipment that is critical to the safety of our men and women in uniform, and equipment that fails to meet performance standards not only cheats taxpayers, but can put lives at risk,” said Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.
Who Gets The Blame?
ArmorSource continues to supply equipment to the Defense Department. The production of the faulty helmets has been blamed on Unicor. Unicor is a ‘wholly-owned government corporation operated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’. ArmorSource outsourced the project to Unicor. Unicor was in charge of supervising the inmates during production. Federal Prison Industries, FPI, operates under the name Unicor.
The Justice Department revealed that two whistleblowers who worked for FPI, were Melessa Ponzio and Sharon Clubb. The two filed complaints against ArmorSource in 2010. Ms. Ponzio and Clubb were employed by the organization as plastics supervisors. They claimed that after repeated objections to supervisors over how the helmets were being produced nothing was changed or reported. Their lawsuit against ArmorSource brought to light the debacle of the faulty helmets.
The Justice Department has yet to charge anyone over the mess.