February 6, 2008
Twelve days before the settlement with the Justice Department was announced, the company, Sioux Manufacturing of Fort Totten, was given a new contract of up to $74 million to make more armor for helmets to replace the old ones, which were made from the late 1980s to last year.
Sioux upgraded its looms in 2006, company executives say, and the government says it has started inspections at the plant.
The United States attorney for North Dakota, Drew H. Wrigley, called the accord "an appropriate resolution" because the Defense Department had said that 200 sample helmets passed ballistic tests and that it "has no information of injuries or deaths due to inadequate Pasgt helmet protection."
Pasgt, pronounced "pass-get," stands for the Personal Armor System for Ground Troops, which includes the helmet model being replaced.
At the core of the investigation was the contention by two former plant managers that Kevlar woven at Sioux failed to meet the government's "critical" minimum standard of 35 by 35 threads a square inch.
When properly woven, Kevlar, a polymer thread made by Dupont, is stronger than steel, and able to deflect shrapnel and some bullets. Government regulations call for rejecting Kevlar below the 35-by-35 standard.
The company "was underweaving," Mr. Wrigley said.
"That is undebatable," he said.
The factory's own inspection records often showed weaves of 34 by 34 threads or as low as 32 by 34 and 33 by 34. Looms were "always set for 34 by 34, always," said Jeff Kenner, who operated and repaired the looms and oversaw crews on all three shifts.
In a statement, the company president, Carl R. McKay, denied "any and all of the allegations originally brought to the attention of the Department of Justice by disgruntled ex-employees."
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