3M company has agreed to pay $9.1 million to settle a False Claims Act lawsuit brought by a whistleblower who alleged the company knowingly sold defective ear plugs to the United States military without disclosing the deficiencies.

U.S. Justice Department officials said an unidentified whistleblower filed a False Claims Act complaint on behalf of the U.S. government, accusing Minnesota-based 3M and its Aearo Technologies unit of finalizing their contract with the Defense Logistics Agency, despite their knowledge that the protective devices were too short for proper ear insertion.

3m whistleblower Whistleblower complaint recovers $9.1 million from 3MThe dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 are designed to protect the wearer from different noise levels, depending on which end is inserted in the ear. They were used by U.S. servicemembers worldwide in both combat and non-combat operations.

According to the Justice Department, deficiencies in the design of the earplugs meant the devices could slowly and subtly loosen in the user’s ears without the user noticing, diminishing their effectiveness and conceivably putting servicemembers at greater risk of injury.

“Through rigorous enforcement of the False Claims Act, we protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse,” said South Carolina U. S. Attorney Sherri Lydon. “And in this case in particular, we are proud to defend the integrity of our military programs and ensure that our men and women in uniform are adequately protected as they serve our country.”

The U.S. Justice Department said it joined forces with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina, the Army Criminal Investigation Command, and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service to investigate the whistleblower claims.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division said the settlement demonstrates the government’s efforts to protect U.S. servicemen and servicewomen from “defective or fraudulent products.”

“Government contractors who seek to profit at the expense of our military will face appropriate consequences,” he added.

The whistleblower whose lawsuit prompted federal prosecutors to investigate 3M’s alleged misconduct will receive an award of 21 percent of the total settlement – about $1,911,000.

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