In the world of False Claims Act (“FCA”) suits, it is easy to become focused on the money. Media stories often highlight the amount at issue in a pending case, the amount recovered in a settlement or verdict, or (and we’ve done this too) the staggering yearly figures for money diverted by fraud and money recovered by claims and investigations. Since the whistleblower, known in legal circles as “the realtor,” in a successful case shares in government’s recovery and can receive a large sum, many assume these realtors are focused on the money. As a law firm for False Claims Act whistleblowers in California, we know that nothing could be further from the truth. Public safety motivates realtors and is a key aim of many False Claims Act suits.
The Motives of Whistleblowers
When you talk to realtors, it becomes immensely clear that their moral/ethical compass led them to the role. Beyond our first-hand experience, this motive is emphasized in a study in the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Whistle-Blowers’ Experiences in Fraud Litigation against Pharmaceutical Companies.” Researchers spoke to 26 realtors, taking care to preserve confidentiality in order to encourage honest responses. All 26 said the potential financial bounty was had not motivated their participation in the suit. Instead, motives focused on four main themes: Integrity; Altruism/Public Safety; Justice; and Self-Preservation (i.e. reporting out of concern they’d later be linked to the scam).
Although such statements could be perceived as self-serving, other details support the existence of non-monetary motives. A strong majority (18 of 22) of the “inside” whistleblowers (i.e. those working for the company involved in the case) began by trying to resolve their concerns internally, actions that probably involved much risk and little chance of reward. Multiple interviewees suggested others remained silent due to financial worries, particularly fear of jeopardizing employment. Twenty of the twenty-six realtors did not seek out involvement in an FCA suit, instead they “fell into the qui tam process after seeking lawyers for other reasons (e.g., unfair employment practices) or after being encouraged to file suit by family or friends.”
The Matter of Public Safety
Concerns of public safety run throughout our legal practice at the Brod Firm including in the qui tam FCA arena. Notably, 7 of the 26 realtors cited public safety concerns, particularly those individuals who felt they had a unique understanding of the potential negative public health consequences of the conduct. Further, a focus on public safety can be seen in many pending and resolved qui tam FCA cases.
Public safety concerns are voiced in a July 2012 press release announcing the largest health care fraud settlement in the nation’s history. The release quotes the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services who states:
“For a long time, our health care system had been a target for cheaters who thought they could make an easy profit at the expense of public safety, taxpayers, and the millions of Americans who depend on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. But thanks to strong enforcement actions like those we have announced today, that equation is rapidly changing.”
Outside health care, public safety issues underlie a qui tam suit alleging government contract fraud with respect to changes to highway guardrail terminals. While the suit focuses on a contractual wrong, it is inextricably tied to the public safety concerns discussed on this blog last week (note: the case was dismissed for procedural reasons but is expected to be retried later this year).
Yet another testament to the public safety aims underlying False Claims Act claims can be seen in a November 2011 piece advocating for the creation of a state equivalent in Pennsylvania. “The federal, state and municipal false claims acts also promote public safety and the integrity of federal, state and local programs, in that they punish and deter, for example, life-threatening, medically unnecessary procedures, the distribution of adulterated drugs and medical devices, and substandard construction work.
A Team Effort
We are proud to partner with whistleblowers on qui tam False Claims Act cases and to participate in cases that can recover misappropriated government funds while advancing critical public safety aims. While the whistleblowers are generally motivated by ethical issues and safety concerns, they are entitled to and deserve financial compensation for their time and effort. If you are aware of fraud against the government, including health care fraud or government contracts fraud, our Northern California whistleblowers’ law firm can help you pursue a False Claims Act case. Together, we can bring an end to fraud, recover diverted funds, and protect Californians and Americans from practices that endanger us all.
(Courthouse photo by Robert Linder; Scale/Books Mural photo by Clyde Robinson of work by Jason Luper;