The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and Division of Law are preparing to distribute $173,778.90 to approximately 100 New Jersey police departments that purchased defective bulletproof vests from Second Chance Body Armor, Inc., a manufacturer that filed for bankruptcy in 2004 after the discovery that the vests' protective armor failed and deteriorated over time, exposing police officers to potentially fatal injury.
"For years before it finally went bankrupt, this company's so-called bulletproof vests had the potential to put police officers' lives at risk," Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. "We have never lost sight of our commitment to reclaim the money that New Jersey police departments paid for this defective body armor."
The State of New Jersey, through the Division of Consumer Affairs and the Division of Law, began pursuing restitution on behalf of New Jersey police departments before Second Chance Body Armor, based in Michigan, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2004. This matter has remained in the United States Bankruptcy Court since 2004. The State of New Jersey obtained an Order for the distribution of funds in August 2013, and has now received a payment from the bankruptcy estate.
"It is hard to imagine a more unconscionable business practice than the sale of defective bulletproof vests for New Jersey police officers," Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Steve Lee said. "The officers who daily risk their lives to protect their fellow New Jerseyans deserve better."
The Division of Consumer Affairs will distribute the funds to the affected police departments on a pro-rated basis. To determine the amount that will be distributed to each department, the Division is reaching out this week to the approximately 100 police departments that purchased Zylon-based bulletproof vests from Second Chance Body Armor, that have not already received full reimbursement from a prior class action lawsuit or from New Jersey's Body Armor Replacement Fund.
Between 1999 and 2003, Second Chance Body Armor manufactured bulletproof vests that used Zylon, a synthetic polymer. More than 260 New Jersey police departments purchased a total of approximately 5,000 Second Chance Body Armor vests, primarily through a firearms and sporting goods store in North Plainfield. The U.S. Department of Justice, through a bulletproof vest grant program, provided matching funds to agencies that purchased Second Chance Body Armor vests.
In approximately 2003, the public learned that Zylon was a material that failed and deteriorated over time. That same year the Second Chance Body Armor bulletproof vests used by an Oceanside, California police officer and a Forest Hills, Pennsylvania police officer reportedly failed. Both officers were shot and suffered significant injuries; the California officer died from his injuries.
The State of New Jersey, through the Division of Consumer Affairs and Division of Law, joined the executive committee of a multi-state investigation into Second Chance Body Armor that began in 2003. Shortly after this investigation began, Second Chance Body Armor filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October 2004, and the filing was converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation in November 2005.
By order of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, New Jersey's total restitution amount of $173,778.90 was calculated by offsetting the money the U.S. Department of Justice paid for the vests, as well as the total of $1.2 million that New Jersey police departments previously received through a separate class action lawsuit against Second Chance Body Armor, which was concluded in 2006.
As set forth above, the Division of Consumer Affairs is contacting police departments this week for full information about their purchase of Second Chance Body Armor vests and the reimbursement they received from sources such as the U.S. Department of Justice, the State's Body Armor Replacement Fund, and the prior class action lawsuit, in order to determine the full amount each department will receive from the bankruptcy restitution. Police departments wishing to contact the Division directly can call 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Kant, of the Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group within the Division of Law, represented the State of New Jersey in this matter with the assistance of Attorney Assistant Woodrow Carmona. Lead Investigator Van Mallett, of the Division of Consumer Affairs' Case Initiation and Tracking Unit, will direct the distribution of funds.
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