Fired Humvee whistleblower wins $990,000
- Updated: September 17, 2014 - 5:33 AM
David McIntosh’s fight to expose a design change in a Humvee gun turret that he feared could have fatal consequences for soldiers in Iraq cost him his job and his home, and was a “significant factor” in the collapse of his marriage.
Tuesday, the 49-year-old whistleblower from Stacy, Minn., was awarded nearly $1 million as part of a $5.5 million settlement with the companies that produced backup batteries for the Humvee’s turret.
“It was never about the money,” McIntosh said Tuesday. “It was about doing the right thing and protecting the people who protect us.”
McIntosh lost his job that paid him “about six figures,” struggled for years to find work and now is employed as a laborer and truck driver on road construction projects.
The sealed acid batteries turn the turrets on the Humvees if the engine gives out, but unbeknownst to the Army, the manufacturing process was changed, cutting the battery’s life span by as much as 50 percent, McIntosh said
“Worst-case scenario, if the troops in a Humvee were in a firefight … they may have only half the power the Army was promised, which could mean life or death,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh was a regional sales representative for M.K. Battery when he tried to persuade top company officials to alert the Army, but after 14 months, they still would not do so, he said. So in 2007, he called the Defense Department. Three weeks later he was fired.
“They told me I was being terminated for insubordination,” he said.
On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andy Luger announced the settlement agreement with M.K. Battery and several other companies, resolving allegations that they had violated the False Claims Act. It settled a suit brought by McIntosh’s attorneys, Clayton Halunen and Susan Coler of Minneapolis.
M.K. Battery, with offices in California and the company that owns it, East Penn Manufacturing, located in Pennsylvania, declined requests for an interview, but issued a statement Tuesday saying they “denied that the batteries at issue did not meet the required specifications and the settlement with the government acknowledges that denial.”
Still, the two firms said they “were pleased to resolve these claims with the government in order to demonstrate their commitment to supplying the government with high quality batteries as well as to avoid the expense, distraction and uncertainty of protracted litigation.”
McIntosh said he was first alerted to a potential problem by an e-mail from a company engineer saying that the design and manufacture of the battery had been changed “and he didn’t know how it would affect my accounts.”
McIntosh said he tested the batteries to measure their performance. “Many times” they had half their previous capacity, he said. The new manufacturing process, he said, was designed to reduce costs, but he worried about the impact.
‘A strange call’
Over 14 months, he corresponded and spoke with top company officials about his concerns, according to the lawsuit, and warned them if they did not contact the Department of Defense, he would. When he learned the company did not plan to disclose the results of his tests, he said he contacted the Defense Department on April 24, 2007.
“It was a strange call to make,” he said. “I know these agencies. I never thought I would be contacting them in my life.”
On June 13, 2007, the company fired him. “I felt alone,” he says. “I knew these individuals quite well.”
He struggled for six years to find full-time work, he said. “Battery companies tend to know each other,” he said. “I don’t know if I was blackballed, but it felt like it.”
So he did house remodeling for friends and families and tried some private ventures that did not pan out. “It was very difficult to get full-time, gainful employment,” he said, and the resulting stress was a factor in his divorce.
‘Classic … corporate greed’
A second part of the suit, dealing with McIntosh’s termination, is expected to go to trial next spring before U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank. “We are not interested in settling that case,” said Halunen, McIntosh’s attorney. “He wants to tell his story publicly at trial.”
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said it was unaware of any lives lost because of the batteries, but Chad Blumenfield, the assistant U.S. attorney in Minneapolis, issued this statement: “The Department of Defense relies on companies it deals with to be honest about the products they provide, especially when those products will be used on the battlefield. Inaccuracies about such products cannot be tolerated.”
Halunen offered a harsher assessment.
“From Day 1, it is a classic example of corporate greed,” he said. “Profit was more important than protecting human lives, in this case, the men and women serving our country, which is particularly repugnant.”
Randy Furst • 612-673-4224 Twitter: @randyfurst
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