On the same grey November day when President Bush visited Wall Street’s Federal Hall to address the ever-morphing “bailout,” I was in lower Manhattan meeting with IRS officials about an IRS Whistleblower matter. The tax evasion scheme we discussed was yet another that has cost taxpayers dearly.
As NYPD officers scurried about to help protect the President that day, I wondered who and what would protect our taxpayer funds–the hundreds of billions the government was now about to dole out–from fraud and abuse.
A few days later, Sen. Chuck Grassley hammered the same point in a November 17, 2008 letter to Treasury Secretary Paulson and Attorney General Mukasey. Grassley has insisted on effective oversight of the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (TARP) and the Capital Purchase Program (CPP), as well as on encouraging “whistleblowers” to come forward:
In the meantime, taxpayer dollars are at risk and I believe it is important to discuss alternative procedures and measures that can be taken to ensure taxpayers aren’t taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous individuals. One proven and effective method of overseeing taxpayer funds has been to support courageous whistleblowers who risk their jobs and livelihoods to bring forth allegations of fraud, waste, and abuse of taxpayer monies. As a longtime supporter of whistleblowers, I can attest to the fact that whistleblowers are often the key to uncovering schemes to defraud the government. With their inside knowledge of how businesses, corporations, or government agencies operate they are often privy to information that is often the necessary component to piece together how a fraud is perpetrated. As such, I believe you should both work to ensure that all entities participating in the TARP and CPP are made aware that any allegations of fraud, waste, or abuse will be treated seriously and properly referred to the Treasury Inspector General or the Attorney General for review until a Special Inspector General for the TARP is appointed.
Grassley also emphasized the importance of the False Claims Act, the nation’s primary civil weapon for combating fraud against taxpayer funds, in preventing and penalizing fraud in the bailout:
[E]ntities who receive federal funds under the TARP and CPP are subject to the provisions of the FCA should they use false or fraudulent submissions in order to obtain federal funds. For instance, any entity that submits false or fraudulent information in an application to Treasury in order to obtain federal funds available through the CPP would be liable to the Government under the FCA. Further, while it has been reported that the Treasury does not currently plan to utilize authority under the Act to use the TARP to purchase distressed assets either directly or indirectly, should Treasury exercise its authority to do so, any fraudulent statements or submissions made to induce the Government to purchase those assets would also subject the fraudfeasors to liability. As a result, these individuals and corporations could be subject to civil penalties and treble damages for committing fraud against the Government.
A few days later, we saw an effective use of the False Claims Act to combat abuses in mortgage lending practices that impact taxpayers. The Justice Department announced that RBC Mortgage Company (RBC) has agreed to pay more than $10 million to resolve allegations that, between 2001 and 2005, RBC, a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Canada, “falsified documentation in support of loan applications, violated due diligence underwriting requirements and improperly submitted loans for endorsement by HUD that were not eligible for FHA insurance.” We congratulate the U.S. Attorney’s office for Northern District of Illinois, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Inspector General and the Justice Department’s Civil Division.
Based on history, those who commit fraud and abuse will target the enormous taxpayer funds to be used in each of the bailout, stabilization, or stimulus programs to come. A strong and effective False Claims Act and IRS Whistleblower Program are more essential than ever to combatting these unlawful efforts.
Of vital importance, this massive federal outlay also adds urgency to the passage of pending legislation to remove loopholes and “technical” defenses to the False Claims Act, through the “False Claims Act Corrections Act,” about which we have written previously.