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A 32-year-old man is accused of doctoring ballistic tests, fabricating emails and posing as foreign officials to trick the federal government into awarding his company lucrative defense contracts for Chinese-made military gear that he claimed was manufactured in the U.S.

Some of that gear was sent to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and to foreign law enforcement in Latin America, prosecutors said.

Tanner Jackson, owner of Top Body Armor LLC USA and Bullet Proof Armor LLC, pleaded guilty to wire fraud on Tuesday, Nov. 16, in the Eastern District of Virginia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release. Jackson is from Celeste, Texas, a rural city with less than 1,000 residents about 90 miles outside of Fort Worth.

Prosecutors said Jackson ran both companies out of his home in Celeste.

Jackson could not be reached for comment, and a defense attorney representing him did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment.

The alleged scheme

Prosecutors charged Jackson by way of criminal information in October, court filings show.

According to those documents, Jackson and his wife were the only two employees at Top Body Armor and Bullet Proof Armor, which resell military-grade body armor and helmets.

In 2017, Jackson reportedly began bidding on State Department contracts to supply military gear but lied in the applications, saying his companies manufactured the gear.

Because military gear supplied to the government has to pass stringent safety standards, prosecutors said, Jackson also made up a fake ballistic testing company and fabricated reports stating that the helmets and body armor passed muster.

Jackson then posed as an official with the U.S. Embassy and as a senior foreign police official in Honduras to sign agreements with a Chinese exporter, which allowed the helmets and body armor to be exported to the U.S., prosecutors said.

But the orders took time to clear U.S. Customs, causing a delay in delivery. The government said Jackson created fake email accounts and penned messages to himself blaming the delays on truck accidents or COVID-19 outbreaks, which he then forwarded to government officials.

Faulty gear sent to Baghdad

In June 2017, Jackson submitted a $184,523 bid to supply the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad with ballistic-resistant body armor and helmets. When a contracting officer reached out asking for proof that his gear was made in the U.S. and passed ballistic testing, the government said Jackson lied about the manufacturing origins and sent a fake lab report.

He reportedly discussed wanting to maintain “quality control” of the products by producing them “in-house” in email exchanges with the officer, and he promised to have the steel plates and helmets produced in 28 to 30 days.

According to court filings, Jackson was awarded the contract in July. He then ordered 500 ballistic helmets from a Chinese supplier by forging another person’s signature, the government said.

The gear was shipped to a State Department facility in New York in September 2017 and later sent to the embassy in Baghdad. The government then wired over $184,000 to Jackson’s company as payment.

“After concerns arose about the quality of the helmets and body armor, they were removed from service,” prosecutors said.

As part of his plea agreement, Jackson will have to pay a minimum of $184,512 in restitution, court documents show. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in February and faces up to 20 years in prison, though prosecutors said sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum allowed.

©2021 The Charlotte Observer.

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