Since 1965, when its technology put “jungle boots” on the feet of U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War, Wellco Enterprises shod the military to the tune of billions of dollars with its “Made in the USA” footwear.

But when investment firms took over the North Carolina manufacturer amid an economic downturn in 2008, installed Vincent Lee Ferguson of Knoxville as its chief executive and moved its headquarters to Morristown, Tenn., Ferguson promised an “aggressive” push to turn the company around.

What he didn’t tell his board of directors was that his plan was to farm out manufacturing to the Chinese and trick the U.S. government — and consumers — into believing the boots remained worthy of the standards and public good will its “Made in the USA” label promised, federal prosecutors allege.

Ferguson, 65, is accused along with four others, including three family members, of conspiring to rip off the U.S. Department of Defense to the tune of more than $8.1 million by marketing “Made in the USA” military-style boots to the government, to government contractors and to the general public that were actually manufactured largely in China and to a lesser extent in Peru and the Dominican Republic.