Articles Posted in Government Contracts Fraud

austin-distel-1555609-unsplash-copy-300x225If you are considering blowing the whistle on your employer’s wrongful actions that are defrauding the government, employment retaliation is a real fear. In fact, it is one of the biggest reasons employees do not come forward and blow the whistle. However, this should never keep you from trying to make things right. You should know you have legal rights that protect you from employer retaliation.

When an employer retaliates against you for whistleblowing, your best option is to file a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit with the California Superior Court. Prior to doing so, however, you may have to file a complaint with a government agency.  

Protection Under Labor Code 1102.5 LC

sean-pollock-203658-unsplash-copy-300x200The United States government uses a number of contractors in many different areas. For example, manufacturers make training gear for the U.S. military, and the prison system has many contracts for staffing the prisons and helping maintain its facilities. Many medical clinics and hospitals receive funding from Medicaid and Medicare contracts.

Just like anyone else, the government assumes that the contractors they are working with will work with them fairly and honestly. When those contractors fail to do so, they may be found in violation of the False Claims Act. Whistleblowers who see this fraudulent activity can then inform the government of the impropriety. This not only helps stop that fraudulent activity, but also allows the whistleblower to claim compensation for prohibiting dishonest acts against the government.

Types of Government Contractor and Procurement Fraud Claims

tim-mossholder-588403-unsplash-copy-300x200The partial shutdown of the federal government has been going on for almost five weeks as of the date of this article. Many government programs have been negatively impacted. This is especially pertinent regarding whistleblower (also known as qui tam) actions since the federal government is potentially involved in so many of the steps of prosecuting a successful lawsuit.  Furthermore, the lack of government funding that has resulted from the shutdown may also increase the potential for more fraudulent acts that are the impetus for qui tam actions in the first place.

Federal Courts

The status of the federal court system is important when considering federal qui tam actions. This is because the lawsuits are based on a federal law, the False Claims Act, wherein a whistleblower (known under the law as a relator) brings a lawsuit on behalf of the federal government in cases in which businesses have brought false claims to the government for payment. As such, these lawsuits are almost universally brought in the appropriate federal District Court. In the San Francisco area, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California is the most frequent venue for filing qui tam actions. Luckily, for relators, at least, on January 11, Chief Judge Hamilton issued an order providing for the continuation of operations under the Anti-Deficiency Act (see the Order here). Simply put, this means the Court will continue to accept filings, hear, and decide cases without interruption and handle new and existing cases as necessary. This means that, for the Court, at least, the business of justice will continue unimpeded.

max-bender-262783-unsplash-copy-300x199On December 21, 2018, the Department of Justice released its statistics for Fiscal Year 2018 for actions taken under the Federal False Claims Act. The news release listed several notable cases and provided daunting statistics regarding the scope of fraud committed against the government in our country.

Federal False Claims Act

The Federal False Claims Act is a law that allows the government to go after both companies and individuals who file false invoices or claims in order to get paid by the government for services or products. The law also allows “relators” to recover from those who defraud the government as an incentive to citizens to help the government curb fraud and abuse in government programs.  Relators can receive up to 30% of the recovered proceeds through “qui tam” lawsuits.

david-everett-strickler-196946-copy-300x195The government only chooses to intervene in whistleblower cases that it finds to be strong and in which it has an interest. By presenting your qui tam case in a strategic way, you can catch the eye of the government and encourage them to intervene. Below are several practical tips for strengthening your qui tam case and increasing your chances of getting the government involved in your case.

Gather Compelling Evidence

The most important thing the government is going to look for in your qui tam case is whether you have compelling evidence. A mere allegation alone means nothing if it is not also accompanied by hard evidence of the fraud you are alleging was committed.

israel-palacio-463979-copy-300x200While qui tam cases brought under the False Claims Act (FCA) are often related to health care, qui tam cases can be in connection to any type of claim made to the federal government for payment. In addition to the health care industry, defense contractors are another area in which the government is vulnerable to fraudulent schemes. For example, Lockheed Martin Corporation has agreed to settle FCA allegations by paying the federal government $4.4 million. Lockheed is accused of providing defective communications systems to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Defective Equipment for the Military

The defense contractor provided Radio Frequency Distribution System (RFDS) for the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutters. According to the U.S. attorneys, the RFDS failed to be able to conduct simultaneous operations, meaning it could receive and transmit different radio signals at the same time without interference.

When qui tam cases under the False Claims Act (FCA) are first filed, they are to remain under seal for 60 days. During this time, the case is secret. The defendant is not even served yet, so it likely does not know there is a suit filed against it unless there are quiet rumblings or leaks. During this 60-day period, the government is given an opportunity to investigate the allegations and decide whether to join the suit or not. Once the government makes its decision, the case is unsealed. In certain instances, this is when the defendant is served. However, in many cases, the seal is partially lifted and the defendant is served prior to the whistleblower case being made public.

The truth of the matter, though, is that a qui tam case is never under seal for just 60 days. The FCA, the government can ask for extensions of the seal period if they can show it is for good cause. This happens regularly and continuously to the point where many qui tam cases remain confidential for years.

How Long Do Qui Tam Cases Remain Under Seal?

jerry-kiesewetter-210547-copy-300x199The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on June 7 that the U.S. is intervening in a qui tam suit against Los Angeles and CRA/LA, formerly known as the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, regarding allegations that the city and organization falsely certified that they were compliant with federal accessible housing laws to obtain grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In short, the U.S. is joining a lawsuit that alleges the city and its agency unlawfully gained and misused federal funds. If the U.S. and whistleblowers are successful, the settlement or judgement could amount to millions of dollars.

An FCA Claim Against L.A.

The qui tam suit was brought under the False Claims Act (FCA) by Mei Ling, a Los Angeles resident who uses a wheelchair, and the Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley, (the Council), a local nonprofit. Ling and the Council provided evidence to the court that L.A. and CRA/LA repeatedly lied to HUD about building accessible housing for people with disabilities. Instead, the defendants used federal grants to build housing that violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act. The whistleblowers also argue that the defendants violated their affirmative duty to provide people with disabilities fair and equal access to public housing.

benjamin-child-90768-300x200Vinod Khurana alleged he should receive part of a $500 million settlement agreement between Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), New York City, and the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office since he was a whistleblower who informed the government of SAIC’s fraudulent billing and record-keeping system. However, the court denied this claim stating that Khurana was not a valid qui tam relator in relation to the settlement. Therefore, he had no right to a portion of the agreement as if it were the government’s alternate remedy.

Khurana’s History with SAIC

Khurana was a software engineer with Spherion, a quality assurance company that was hired to review SAIC’s records and billing on the CityTime system, which was used to track municipal workers’ hours. By working with CityTime, Khurana discovered that SAIC managers had a fraudulent billing and record-keeping system that made them money. He claims his bringing forward information about this fraud between 2004 and 2007 was what led to his dismissal in 2007.

file5601297827370-300x225Each week new qui tam suits, possible under the False Claims Act (FCA) are brought by private individuals against other individuals and businesses on behalf of the federal government. Many of these lawsuits take years to investigate and litigate. Additionally, each week sees some of these cases settled, finalized, or appealed. Here are a few cases that wrapped up this past week:

  • In February, a physician’s practice in Florida agreed to settle a FCA claim based on Medicare fraud for $750,000. The qui tam suit against Dr. Paul B. Tartell was filed by a former patient Theodore Duay. Duay alleged that Tartell would bill Medicare and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program for procedures that were not medically necessary or not performed at all. Numerous federal agencies were involved in negotiating this settlement, and Duay will receive $135,000 for filing the action.
  • TeamHealth Holdings will pay $60 million plus interest due to allegations its business, IPC Healthcare Inc., committed fraud against Medicare, Medicaid, the Defense Health Agency, and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program by billing for more expensive medical services than what were actually provided. Dr. Bijan Oughatiyan filed a qui tam action under the FCA alleging the practice of “upcoding.” The federal government investigated and chose to intervene, providing a detailed description of how IPC Healthcare used false codes to receive greater reimbursements. Oughatiyan will receive $11.4 million for his participation.