May 2002: President Bush attends a memorial for police officers killed in the line of duty. Under his jacket, he's wearing a Second Chance bulletproof vest, according to a company insider critical of the vest.
A year later, a California police officer wearing the same model vest is killed when a bullet penetrates his vest.
Sources involved in the case say the Justice Department now is conducting a criminal investigation into whether the company — Second Chance Body Armor — knowingly sold defective vests to the Secret Service, military and police. The company denies the allegation.
"It means that they put the president of the United States at risk, the first lady at risk, the Secret Service agents that were protecting him at risk,"says Steve Kohn, who is representing the company whistleblower in the case.
A company whistleblower says the Secret Service bought possibly defective vests for the president, his detail and others. Another worker told NBC News her group made vests specifically for the president and first lady.
"To find that something could slip through, that possibly would not hold up to the test for which it was designed, it's scary," says Tom Kennedy, a security consultant with Vance International.
The sale occurred in 2002, only months after a top company research official warned that the vests could fail.
"I strongly believed that this was a threat and that some police officer could be killed," said whistleblower Aaron Westrick in a December 2001 deposition.
Westrick urged that customers be warned, saying "lives and our credibility are at stake."
But no warning was issued until after the officer in California died.
Monday, the Secret Service would not comment.
A lawyer for the company says it's cooperating fully with the investigation and denies wrongdoing. He says the vests were recalled as soon as the company confirmed there was a problem.