A North Charleston-based maker of armored military vehicles has ceased operations amid a flurry of lawsuits claiming nearly $1 million in unpaid bills and reports that the company has laid off its work force and plans to file for bankruptcy protection.

Workers at Protected Vehicles Inc., which was formed in October 2005 to make armored trucks for the U.S. military's mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle program, were laid off Monday, according to employees and others who contacted The Post and Courier.

Managers told workers that Protected Vehicles was going to merge with an unspecified company and that the plant on the former Navy base would be "closing for a few weeks" while the company underwent bankruptcy reorganization, said Kevin Harris, a materials handler at the plant.

Workers are scheduled to receive their last paychecks Friday, Harris said. In August, the company laid off 230 of its workers, which represented about half its labor force at that time. The number of people affected by this week's shutdown was unclear Thursday.

The plant appeared to be idle Wednesday, and phone calls to it were being redirected to the voice-mail system on Wednesday and Thursday.

Protected Vehicles spokesman Drew Felty said Thursday the company was preparing a statement and could not provide any information until then.

The shutdown comes as Protected Vehicles faces numerous lawsuits filed in Charleston County Court of Common Pleas alleging that it is behind on payments to suppliers. Eight such lawsuits have been filed since the beginning of October, claiming a total of $902,921 in payments due, plus interest and court costs. In those cases in which the company has filed a response, Protected Vehicles has denied the plaintiffs' claims and asked for jury trials.

For more details, see Friday's Post and Courier.