A customs inspector's keen eye on a shipment of trousers crossing from Mexico to the U.S. helped unravel a massive scheme that defrauded the Pentagon of $30 million and has two men facing up to five years when they are sentenced next month.
Paul Grillo and Raymond Lawson, former owners of the Colorado-based Barrier Wear, pleaded guilty in December in U.S. District Court in Tucson to one felony count of obstructing a federal auditor.
The Berry Amendment -- approved by Congress in 1941 -- requires the Department of Defense to buy clothing and other goods produced domestically.
"...Barrier Wear took steps to conceal that its clothing was manufactured abroad..."
- DOD affidavit
Grillo and Lawson, who forfeited $2.1 million to the federal government, face sentencing March 7. The maximum penalty for obstructing a federal auditor is a $250,000 fine, five years in prison and three years of supervised release, the Arizona Daily Star reported.
The Star reports that from 2008 to 2012, Barrier Wear was a subcontractor for Atlantic Diving Supply in Virginia, which holds a contract with the Department of Defense to produce trousers and jackets for cold weather.
The trousers arrived at the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales in October 2009 with loose labels that read "Assembled in Mexico of U.S. components," according to the newspaper.
The labels identified the trousers as "Official Army Use," and an invoice said they were being shipped from a factory in Sonora run by Barrier Wear de Mexico to one of the company's facilities in Nogales, Ariz., according to the Star, which obtained court records in the case.
“Our investigation also demonstrated that Barrier Wear took steps to conceal that its clothing was manufactured abroad, consistent with the conclusion that it was aware of its Berry Amendment obligations and intentionally disregarded them,” read an affidavit from a special agent with the DOD’s Criminal Investigative Service, according to the Star.
The affidavit, filed Jan. 21 in U.S. District Court, stated that upwards of 320,000 garments -- nearly two-thirds of the $48 million in total garments Barrier Wear shipped to Virginia -- were made in Hermosillo and Baviacora, Sonora, the paper reported.
Lawyers for Grillo and Lawson and a spokesman from the U.S. Attorney's Office were not available for comment when contacted Monday.
In 2012, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, questioned why U.S. military members were wearing Chinese-made boots and requested that the Defense Department comply with the rules.
In an October 2012 to Frank Kendall, under secretary of defense for acquisition, echnology and logistics, Brown questioned why Air Force service members deployed to Afghanistan were twice issued boots made in China.
"Our service members should not be given equipment manufactured in other countries when domestic options exist," Brown wrote at the time. "Our men and women in uniform are fighting for their country, and deserve to fight in quality uniforms and boots that are made in the U.S.A."