California and federal False Claim laws prohibit a business or individual from knowingly making or using a false statement to obtain money from the government. False claim charges can be levied in cases of tax fraud, insurance fraud, investment fraud, and other cases.
The False Claims Act also provides for private persons to file a lawsuit against any person or business believed to have violated the law. These types of lawsuit are called “qui tam,” and a person who successfully brings such an action may be awarded a percentage of the monies recovered from the person or business that illegally obtained funds from the government. For purposes of a qui tam action, the person bringing suit is called a “relator”; the party accused of wrongdoing is called the “defendant.”
The rules directing how qui tam cases proceed are complex, so they allow the relator to work with an attorney to prepare the case.
Mum’s the Word
As relator your goal is to convince the Attorney General your case against the defendant is so strong, that the AG or other prosecutorial body should take over the lawsuit. This is a good thing because you will then have the might of the government on your side along with its discovery powers and budget to afford investigators, expert witnesses, depositions, and other legal expenses.
Part of preparing a persuasive case is keeping secret the details of what you know and what you are planning to do. After filing a complaint under the qui tam rules, for the first 60 days, the complaint is kept under seal, which means it is kept secret from the potential defendants and witnesses, who if notified of the case could destroy records and other evidence, flee the jurisdiction, or bribe witnesses to lie for them.
This 60-day period is to allow the government to:
- Determine that you are the first person to bring the suit against the defendants for specific unlawful acts. Another complaint alleging essentially the same facts as yours against the same defendant will likely cause your complaint to be dismissed.
- Determine that the facts and evidence presented in your complaint were not known by the government prior to your bringing it to its attention; and
- Investigate your claims to determine whether you have a substantial case.
In essence, as relator you have to be quick and quiet while you put together your case. Once the seal is lifted from your complaint, the defendant will be served and the case proceeds in earnest.
The portion of the recovered monies you could be awarded if the case is successful is in a sense a finder’s fee, a reward for your informing the government of the fraud and sharing the evidence against the defendant that you collected.
Qui tam laws require that the relator submit “material evidence” when the complaint is filed with the court. You, as relator, or the prosecutor, must prove all elements of the case, including damages, by a preponderance of the evidence.
The evidence you possess may be events or conversation you witnessed and, more probably, documentary, meaning written emails, memos, notes, letters, and other records. The evidence must be gathered lawfully, such as documents that came to you through the regular course of your employment or business dealings. You cannot break into an office or file drawer you do not have legal access to. You can hack into someone’s email account or private files.
You can gather evidence quietly. Keep records of conversations, meetings or instances where fraud was discussed. You must protect the evidence you lawfully possess and keep it in a safe location until you can turn it over to your attorney or the government.
You know your employer or a company you deal with is breaking the law. You want to stop the illegal activity, but what can you, a single individual, do? You can sue the wrongdoers and help the government recover funds that were fraudulently stolen. The lawyers at the Brod Law Firm can help you. Call 800-427-7020 today for a free consultation. We work with whistleblowers to ensure they are protected and compensated for their public service. Let us do the same for you. We have offices in San Francisco, Oakland, and Santa Rosa (Sonoma).