Whistleblower Dr. Aaron Westrick Continues Commitment to Ethics After Settlement in Bulletproof Vest Case
Five months after the final settlement was reached in his qui tam suit, whistleblower Dr. Aaron Westrick spoke to students in Oakland University’s Policy & Society Class. Following a screening of the CBS documentary “Whistleblower,” which featured Dr. Westrick’s case and the scandal behind the sale of faulty Zylon vests, Dr. Westrick answered questions from the University students. Students had the opportunity to ask Dr. Westrick questions related to the case, and about the courage it took for him to come forward. “It’s important to understand that ethics will be tested in many people’s careers at some point,” said Jessica Knapik of Oakland University.
In the late nineties and early 2000s, Dr. Westrick was a research director for the largest body armor company in the United States, Second Chance Body Armor. He was also the first official to oppose the sale of bulletproof vests made with Zylon, a fiber used to manufacture vests that were sold to U.S. police departments, federal law enforcement agencies, and the U.S. military. When his requests to recall the vests were ignored, Dr. Westrick obtained qui tam lawyers Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto to file a whistleblower action under the False Claims Act (“FCA”). Based on Dr. Westrick’s whistleblower disclosures, these defective vests were forced off the market and police officer lives were saved. The U.S. Department of Justice intervened in the lawsuit in 2005 and, after an unprecedented 14 years litigating one of the most hotly contested FCA cases in U.S. history, recovered over $132 million dollars from Second Chance, the Zylon manufacturer Toyobo, and numerous weavers and individuals involved in the fraud. Under the FCA’s whistleblower provisions, Dr. Westrick received a whistleblower reward based on a percentage of these settlements.
Whistleblowers often risk their lives and livelihoods for the public interest by coming forward to expose fraudulent and unethical conduct. That is why whistleblower reward laws such as the FCA – which are enacted to protect and reward whistleblowers like Dr. Westrick – are so important. Despite the toll the legal battle took on Dr. Westrick and his family, he does not regret coming forward. “I would do the whole thing over again,” said Dr. Westrick. “There’s no doubt in my mind that what I did was worth it.”
Dr. Westrick is now an associate professor of criminal justice at Lake Superior State University in Michigan, and continues to work as an active deputy sheriff for Charlevoix County. In July 2018, he was awarded the Frank Wills & Martha Mitchell Pillar Award at the Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights, which honors whistleblower that face retaliation and other forms of adversity after exposing the truth.