Leader Blues

Friday, January 26, 2007

TOP STORY >>Bancroft owner: Prove my caps bad

IN SHORT: The head of the Cabot firm says the military hasn’t convinced him that the hundreds of thousands of berets it has rejected contain foreign materials in violation of his contract, and he’ll reopen with 25 workers Monday.

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader editor

The embattled owner of Bancroft Cap Co. in Cabot said Thursday that the military hasn’t convinced him that the 340,000 berets he sold the Defense Department contain foreign materials in violation of his contract.

The Defense Department, which paid Bancroft some $2.9 million for the berets, is demanding repayment because of the alleged violation. Bancroft filed for bankruptcy protection Jan. 16 and will amend its filing to show it has about $4 million in debts, which includes the disputed $2.9 million the military wants returned.

But Barry Goldman, Bancroft’s president, says he will reopen his plant Monday with 25 workers — down from more than 100 a decade ago — and he will keep making berets for the military and the commercial market.

“We still owe them 36,000 berets,” Goldman says about his contract with the military, and he intends to start making them next week.

Goldman said his company can produce about 4,000 berets a month even with a skeleton crew.
Bancroft is the only U.S.-owned manufacturer of military berets in the country and charges the Defense Department $8.64 per beret — 55 cents less if the Pentagon supplies the patches for them.

In the meantime, Goldman wants the Pentagon to make its case about the foreign wool in the berets.

“They say there’s foreign material, but they haven’t been able to prove it to us,” Goldman told the Leader in an interview.
He said all the materials he has bought have been certified as being domestic and in compliance with the Berry Amendment, a six-decade old rule that military clothing must be American made.

“What more could I do?” Goldman asked, referring to the certification he passed on to the military.

“It was news to me,” he said about the military’s accusation that the berets contained foreign wool. “I was quite surprised.”
According to one Bancroft employee, the supplier had sent Bancroft wool from South America when it became unavailable from his main supplier, which Bancroft didn’t know about.

But Bancroft has changed suppliers since the allegations were made about the foreign materials.
Bancroft will use Crescent Woolen of Wisconsin, instead of the previous supplier, R.M. Ott of Boston.
If Ott used imported wool, it was without his knowledge, Goldman insists.

What’s more, the military had not complained before about the materials in the berets, he said.
“We went over all our purchasing agreements,” he said. “They signed off on them.”
He doesn’t know why the military started examining the contents of Bancroft’s berets, but he doesn’t rule out the possibility of a whistle-blower turning him in.

He blames much of Bancroft’s problems on the military, which ordered more berets than it needs.

The Leader reported this week that the military has a year’s supply of berets. Including Bancroft’s disputed 340,000 berets, plus the 36,000 he intends to produce this year, Goldman thinks the military may have four years of berets.
He said the war in Iraq has hurt his business because the military needs more helmets than berets.

Bancroft has been making berets in Cabot since 1976. He said despite a for-lease sign in front of the plant on Hwy. 367, he had no intention of shutting down but only leasing part of the building while his business was in a slump.

Speculation that Bancroft had shut down was fueled by an absence of workers at the plant in December.
“We always close for Christmas and New Year’s holidays,” Goldman said.