This past Tuesday, Aaron Westrick, a whistleblower of defective bullet-proof vests, was awarded a Frank Wills & Martha Mitchell Pillar Award at the Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights.
Pillar Awards are given by the Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights to recognize individuals and organizations that serve the community by supporting first, fourth, and fifth amendment protections. Specifically, the Pillar Award honors whistleblowers that are victims of retaliation or other forms of adversity as a result of exposing the truth. The Award not only recognizes the courage and strength of the whistleblower, but also the immense and positive impact that their disclosures bring to their community. Past recipients of the Pillar Award have included Diane Williams and Senators Corey Booker, Rand Paul, and Ron Johnson.
Dr. Aaron Westrick was formerly the Director for Research and Marketing at Second Chance Body
Armor (SCBA), which was the largest bullet proof vest company in the United States at the time. In 2001, a Japanese company, Toyobo, informed SCBA that the vests they were selling to American police departments, federal law enforcement agencies, and the U.S. military were unsafe. Dr. Westrick, who was shot in the chest as a police officer prior to working at SCBA, recommended that the company test the vests, which were made with Zylon.
The test results came back and confirmed the Zylon-material vests were defective. Toyobo and SCBA entered into a nondisclosure agreement, covering up the results from customers and the U.S. government. This prompted Westrick to write a memo to the President of SCBA urging the company to take the vests off the market. Westrick’s voice was ignored by the SCBA.
In June 2003, a police officer died in the line of duty when his vest failed.
Westrick saved all of his documents concerning the cover-up by Toyobo and SCBA. In 2004, he filed his case under the qui tam whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act permits private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for fraud in government contracting. Whistleblowers are eligible to share in recoveries following successful prosecution. After a long legal battle with Toyobo, Westrick finally reached a settlement in March 2018, where he was awarded over $5 million from the government’s $66 million settlement with Toyobo.
Because of his commitment to the truth, Westrick saved hundreds of lives with his disclosures and recovered $132 million to the U.S Treasury.
Read more about Westrick’s case: