Articles Posted in False Claims Act

The nation’s newest state False Claims Act was signed into law today by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, after passing unanimously in both houses of the legislature.

The “Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act” protects all taxpayer dollars spent not only by the State, but also by counties, municipalities, school districts, hospital authorities, and other local public bodies or entities.

Like the federal False Claims Act, this Act combats fraud and false claims against taxpayer funds by imposing “treble” damages and civil penalties of $5,500 to $11,000 for each false or fraudulent claim. It also provides rewards to whistleblowers.

A critical issue in qui tam cases under the False Claims Act is how government lawyers and whistleblower attorneys prove damages caused by the fraud and false claims involved.

This whistleblowerlawyerblog‘s co-author MIchael A. Sullivan has been asked to moderate a panel discussion on “Recent Developments on Damages and Penalties” at a leading American Bar Association conference on the False Claims Act, the 2012 ABA National Institute on the Civil False Claims Act and Qui Tam Enforcement, on June 6-8, 2012 in Washington.

Joining me for this discussion of damages and penalties under the False Claims Act are Sara McLean, Assistant Director of the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Department of Justice; Paul Kaufman, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Jamie Bennett of Ashcraft & Gerel, LLP; Robert S. Salcido of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP; and Katherine Lauer of Latham & Watkins LLP.

Financial fraud cases under the False Claims Act continue. A Pennsylvania lender has agreed to pay $3.9 million in a False Claims Act case over alleged false statements in mortgage loan applications for loans insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The loans were made to two nursing homes.

The government contended that Capmark Finance LLC misrepresented the borrowers’ creditworthiness in these two applications for mortgage loans. When the loans defaulted, the FHA sustained losses.

The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force takes credit for this recovery. It was created to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.

Since the 2008 financial collapse, many have called for imposing liability on those whose fraud fueled the crisis.

In this early phase of what we predict will be a wave of financial fraud cases, the Justice Department announced today the largest False Claims Act settlement to date over mortgage fraud. Bank of America has agreed to pay $1 billion to resolve allegations that the Bank, through Countrywide Financial Corporation and some of its subsidiaries and affiliates, engaged in underwriting and origination mortgage fraud.

DOJ alleged that Countrywide knowingly made loans to unqualified home buyers and used inflated appraisals, thus causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA insured the loans in question.

At the Healthcare Fraud Institute this past week, I was asked to address what steps whistleblowers should take to ensure confidentiality of emails with their lawyers. Although qui tam cases under the False Claims Act were the focus of our discussion, the same principles apply to tax whistleblowers and SEC whistleblowers.

Potential whistleblowers should never use their company’s email system, or any email account shared with or accessible to another person, for communicating with their attorney or for gathering information or evidence to report to the government.

Although the law encourages whistleblowers to report fraud, whistleblowers can create unnecessary problems for themselves by not following this rule.

First, emails between whistleblowers and their attorneys are privileged and confidential, but the privilege can disappear and be waived if the communication is disclosed to others.

Second, qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act are filed with a court order “sealing” the case from public view, while the government investigates. If an email accidentally exposes the case, the whistleblower may have violated the court’s “seal” order.

Third, alerting a defendant company that the whistleblower has reported the company’s fraud to the government is almost certain to provoke retaliation against an employee who is a whistleblower. Immediate suspension or firing often follows. Although the False Claims Act and the SEC and CFTC whistleblower laws create remedies for retaliation, those remedies take time to achieve. They will not pay the whistleblower’s mortgage next month–or this year.

We advise all of our clients that they must protect the confidentiality of their emails. Many people do not realize that emails sent from a company’s computer system usually leave some record, even if the employee is accessing a personal Gmail account.
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I have been asked to publicize a seminar at which I am speaking on handling qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act, the nation’s primary whistleblower law addressing fraud that steals government funds. Here is the announcement:

AAJ will hold a “Qui Tam” Teleseminar on December 6, 2011 at 2:00 pm EST. With recently amended whistleblower laws and several high profile settlements, lawyers need to understand the procedural complexities and pitfalls in qui tam whistleblower cases. Cosponsored by the Qui Tam Litigation Group of AAJ, this teleseminar will provide an understanding this rapidly developing area of law.

View the agenda, faculty and register at www.justice.org/quitam. Use the promotion code QUITAM at online checkout to receive the special rate of $159.

Every two years, attorneys prosecuting or defending qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act and other whistleblower laws gather for the Whistleblower Law Symposium.

We have written much about “qui tam” whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act. Since last year’s passage of the Dodd-Frank law, whistleblowers who help expose (1) violations of the securities laws or (2) commercial bribery of foreign government officials, now can receive rewards of 10-30% of money sanctions imposed under the new SEC Whistleblower Program. The new IRS Whistleblower program pays whistleblowers 15-30% of amounts recovered. These cases also help stop fraud against taxpayers and investors.

On October 21, an unusual group of national experts on these claims will gather for the Whistleblower Law Symposium, which our firm organizes every two years. Not only do we have senior attorneys from the Department of Justice and experienced whistleblower lawyers discussing qui tam cases, but the Director of the IRS Whistleblower Office Steve Whitlock will participate and explain the tax whistleblower program. Senior SEC attorneys also have stated that they wish to be part of our seminar to discuss the new SEC Whistleblower Program, and are seeking approval to participate.

This conference is broader in scope than any whistleblower law conference in the country of which I am aware, as we have a national faculty of lawyers on both sides of these cases, as well as some of the top government officials involved.

Registration is still open for those who want to register online here:

Please feel free to call or email me with any questions. The Agenda is below.
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When qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act are “declined” by the Department of Justice, the whistleblower or “relator” is authorized to pursue the case on the government’s behalf.

The DOJ statistics below show that these declined cases have generated more than $97 million in recoveries for taxpayers since 1987, the year after the modern False Claims Act was born.

These facts dispel any notion that the Justice Department has sufficient resources to pursue all meritorious cases. Some of the more notable False Claims Act recoveries were achieved by private attorneys pursuing these “declined” cases.

A list of these declined cases that have brought almost $100 million into the U.S. Treasury is below. This amount is “larger than the sum of all salaries paid to members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate last year,” as observed by Pat Burns of Taxpayers Against Fraud.
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False Claims Act history repeated itself today.

Since Congress acted decisively in 1986 to breathe life into the False Claims Act through amendments intended to expand use of the nation’s major anti-fraud whistleblower law, the Supreme Court and some lower courts have regularly intervened by imposing their own views on what Congress must have meant in writing the 1986 amendments.

Those decisions hostile to enforcement of the False Claims Act included Allison Engine Co. v. United States ex rel. Sanders, 553 U.S. 662 (2008); United States ex rel. Totten v. Bombardier Corp., 380 F.3d 488 (D.C. Cir. 2004), cert. denied, 544 U.S. 1032 (2005); and United States ex rel. DRC, Inc. v. Custer Battles, LLC, 376 F. Supp. 2d 617 (E.D. Va. 2005), rev’d, 562 F.3d 295 (4th Cir. 2009)).

Since then, in 2009 and 2010 Congress responded emphatically with three more sets of FCA amendments to state, in essence, what Congress actually intended in 1986, and still intends, the law to mean. We have previously discussed those amendments made by the 2009-2010 legislation known as FERA, PPACA, and Dodd-Frank. (Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-21, 123 Stat. 1617 (“FERA”); Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Pub. L. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119 (“PPACA”); Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act (“Dodd-Frank”), Pub. L. No. 111-203, 124 Stat. 1376.)

Today’s decision in Schindler Elevator Corp. v. United States ex rel. Kirk is a victory for those who seek to make it more difficult to use the “old” version of the False Claims Act to battle fraud against taxpayers. The Supreme Court’s decision today continued the legislative tennis match with Congress.

The Court held that what is known as the “public disclosure bar” of the False Claims Act deprived courts of jurisdiction over this qui tam whistleblower case, because the whistleblower had attempted to corroborate his allegations through FOIA requests.

Fortunately for those who favor stopping fraud against taxpayers, the decision should have no effect on qui tam cases filed after the March 22, 2010 enactment of PPACA, the major health reform bill.
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The 2008 financial sector collapse has led to another False Claims Act case against financial institutions. Today, Deutsche Bank and MortgageIT were named in a mortgage fraud case under the False Claims Act, filed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York.

The government’s Complaint alleges that Deutsche Bank and MortgageIT “repeatedly lied to be included in a Government program to select mortgages for insurance by the Government. Once in that program, they recklessly selected mortgages that violated program rules in blatant disregard of whether borrowers could make mortgage payments. While Deutsche Bank and MortgageIT profited from the resale of these Government-insured mortgages, thousands of American homeowners have faced default and eviction, and the Government has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance claims, with hundreds of millions of dollars more expected to be paid in the future.”

While health care fraud has been the subject of most qui tam cases under the False Claims Act in recent years, bank fraud, mortgage fraud, and other financial fraud and abuse promise to be growing areas of enforcement in False Claims Act cases.