Articles Posted in Iraq & Afghanistan Contractor Fraud

Of interest to whistleblowers reporting fraud under the False Claims Act, the IRS Whistleblower Program, or the brand new SEC Whistleblower and CFTC Whistleblower Programs is an upcoming presentation, “Avoiding the Mistakes of the UBS/Birkenfeld Case: Protecting Whistleblowers from Criminal and Civil Liability.”

This discussion is part of a fascinating gathering this April in South Beach–the OffshoreAlert Conference. As the brochure promises:

Where else could tax collectors mingle with tax minimizers, asset tracers with asset protectors, regulators with the regulated, whistleblowers with their former employers and crooks with prosecutors?

How to protect whistleblowers from criminal and civil liability was a topic my panel discussed at the 2010 IRS Whistleblower Boot Camp in Washington. Because we had the IRS Chief Counsel’s Office participating in that discussion, we were unable to discuss directly what went wrong for Birkenfeld as he brought important information about tax evasion to the attention of the IRS, but ended up serving a prison sentence of 40 months. (We have written previously about Birkenfeld’s errors revealed in the court record.)

At the OffshoreAlert Conference discussion this year, I will moderate the panel discussion about what can be done to protect whistleblowers from criminal and civil exposure. Joining me are former Justice Department official and former General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Joe D. Whitley; former prosecutor and now whistleblower attorney Marc Raspanti; and federal and international tax attorney Richard Rubin.

The program description is reprinted below:
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When whistleblower attorneys bring a qui tam False Claims Act case, the most successful results usually occur when Government counsel and the whistleblower’s lawyers (Relator’s counsel) work together in what is known as the “public-private” partnership model.

This approach to qui tam cases allows the government to leverage its limited resources by calling on the resources provided by private attorneys. This is essentially a “joint prosecution effort, ” in which the government counsel and investigators can rely on Relator’s counsel at each stage,

–from the beginning of its investigation,

–to obtaining input for preparation of subpoenas for documentary evidence from the defendants,

–to review of evidence compiled by the government in response to subpoenas,

–to evaluation of the responses and explanations that defendants provide,

–to providing analyses and summaries of evidence rebutting the defendants’ factual arguments,

–to performing research that ultimately will be used by the government to rebut the defendants’ legal arguments,

–to performing damages calculations and marshaling arguments in support,

–to consulting with the government on negotiation strategies and steps to be taken to resolve the matter,

–and, finally, to try the case, or otherwise resolve the case.

The taxpaying members of the public are the beneficiaries of this joint effort, which allows the government both to stop and recover damages for fraud, as well as to make those who steal from taxpayers think twice.
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Among the many 2009 changes to strengthen the False Claims Act is one whose impact is about to be experienced: greater use of “civil investigative demands” to gather evidence.

Civil investigative demands allow to government to require any person believed to have documents or information relevant to a False Claims Act investigation to do the following:

(A) to produce such documentary material for inspection and copying,

As if the nation’s expenditures to rebuild Iraq were not enough, fraud that steals taxpayer dollars continues to infect the Iraq reconstruction program. This fraud often results in qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act, which allows those reporting the fraud to receive a a share of the government’s recovery of money.

Today’s New York Times piece by James Glanz reports on the more than 50 new fraud investigations in the past six months alone in the Iraq reconstruction effort.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction is responsible for these investigations. “Chaos, weak oversight and wide use of cash payments in the reconstruction program in Iraq allowed many more Americans who took bribes or stole money to get off scot-free,” in Mr. Glanz’s words.

Fortunately, 2009 changes to strengthen the False Claims Act, the country’s primary whistleblower law, will allow whistleblowers reporting fraud to do so more effectively so that they may share in the dollars recovered.
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Defrauding the government of taxpayer dollars has gotten tougher over the past five months.

Important changes to the nation’s primary anti-fraud statute, the False Claims Act, took effect on May 20, 2009, when the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 became law.

Among the most significant changes, Congress clarified and corrected the False Claims Act by legislatively overruling certain court decisions that sought to limit the scope of the Act, including Allison Engine Co. v. United States ex rel. Sanders, 128 S. Ct. 2123 (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).

These important 2009 changes to the False Claims Act include the following:

1. The amendments expand the definition of “claim,” and fraud directed against government contractors, grantees and other recipients is now plainly covered by the law.

2. Funds administered by the United States government (such as in Iraq) are now protected.

3. Retaining overpayments of money from the government is now an explicit basis of liability, which will be a source of concern for health care providers, among others.

4. Liability for “conspiracy” to violate the Act is broader than before.

5. Protection of whistleblowers and others against “retaliation” now extends not only to “employees,” but also to “contractors” and “agents”; and persons other than “employers” potentially may be liable for retaliation.

6. In investigating, the government now has authority to use “Civil Investigative Demands” more broadly, and to share information more with state and local authorities and with whistleblowers/relators.

7. A standard definition of what is “material” now applies in False Claims Act cases.

8. The statute of limitations has been clarified to allow the government to assert its own claims, after the whistleblower (or “relator”) has filed a qui tam case under the False Claims Act.

Click here for a detailed discussion of the False Claims Act and the wave of new State False Claims Acts.

The amended False Claims Act is reprinted below, in its entirety:
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Outrage over misuse of public funds is a healthy reaction to those who cheat taxpayers. It can also create interesting bedfellows, as newly-introduced legislation in the House demonstrates.

HR 3571, aimed at “de-funding ACORN,” would ban federal contracts and most federal funds to any organization that “has filed a fraudulent form with any Federal or State regulatory agency,” among other things. (Complete bill is below.)

As. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) observed correctly, fraud by those who receive government funds involves much “bigger fish” than ACORN–and bigger dollar amounts of alleged fraud.

“We can’t have a situation where the laws of justice are applied to one organization and not to any of the others, particularly when there are organizations that are polluting water for our soldiers and electrocuting them.” Grayson presumably was referring to allegations that KBR’s performance of government contracts for our troops has caused soldiers to be electrocuted and otherwise endangered.

Rep. Grayson is on target. He saw these abuses as a lawyer vindicating the public’s interest in fighting fraud in pursuing qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act, the nation’s primary civil statute for combating fraud and false claims against the government.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Dan Issa (R-CA) appeared to agree with this principle–“abuse and fraud will not be tolerated,” as his spokeperson told ABC News.

Battling fraud against taxpayers can and should be a universal concern of both parties. Let’s see whether this bill is weakened by those who reap the most rewards from cheating the public. The full text of the proposed legislation is below:
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In one of two prominent whistleblower cases in the news this week, whistleblower John Kopchinski will be awarded more than $50 million for his role in exposing improper “off-label marketing” of the drug Bextra by Pfizer. Other whistleblowers also will be rewarded because of this settlement. That settlement of $2.3 billion is the largest in history ($1 billion to settle False Claims Act allegations, and $1.3 billion in criminal fine and forfeiture).

As large as the Pfizer settlement is, the other whistleblower’s actions seem likely to lead to recovery of dollars that could dwarf this $2.3 billion settlement. UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld has lifted the shroud of secrecy from thousands of American taxpayers’ offshore accounts at UBS. He has given the IRS a foothold into recovering potentially many billions in unpaid taxes owed.

Yet Birkenfeld was recently sentenced to serve 40 months in federal prison for conspiracy to defraud the United States in a tax fraud scheme while at UBS. His conviction also calls into question his ability to receive a reward under the IRS Whistleblower Program from the billions to be collected by the IRS.

How could this happen?

There are tried and true steps lawyers representing whistleblowers must take to protect their clients from the risk of prosecution. This was one of the topics of the “IRS Whistleblower Boot Camp” panel discussion that I led this past March, with panelists including IRS Whistleblower Office Director Steve Whitlock–how to protect the whistleblower who has potential criminal liability, but who has valuable information.

If adequate protection cannot be obtained, often the whistleblower with real criminal exposure should choose not to go forward. If the information is important enough to the government, however, protection for the whistleblower often can be negotiated, so long as the whistleblower is truthful and forthcoming. As former federal prosecutors who have also defended clients in white collar criminal prosecutions, we have represented many clients in obtaining this type of protection.
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Today was a monentous day for those who believe in integrity in how taxpayer funds are treated.

President Obama signed into law today the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009, which makes important amendments to the country’s most important tool for fighting fraud, the False Claims Act.

Also important today, the Obama administration announced an expansion of DOJ’s health-care strike forces, which are designed to combat fraud in Medicare and Medicaid programs. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the initiative.

Today is an historic day–the House of Representatives has passed the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 by a vote of 367-59. The Act includes long-needed amendments to the nation’s primary anti-fraud law, the False Claims Act, about which we have written often.

The amendments are designed to protect the hundreds of billions in taxpayer funds now being spent from fraud affecting TARP, other “stimulus” measures, Medicare and Medicaid, national defense including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and reconstruction efforts, and countless other government programs.

The Senate approved the Act by a vote of 92-4 on April 28th. A conference committee now will consider reconciling differences in the versions of the bill.

The new law closes a series of “loopholes” that allowed dishonest contractors to cheat the American public, and is intended to restore the False Claims Act to its original intent.

Our whistleblower lawyer blog has provided previously a detailed explanation of how the False Claims Act works by allowing private citizen “whistleblowers” (also known as qui tam “relators”) to report fraud and share in the government’s recovery. The False Claims Act also protects whistleblowers from retaliation.

Much will be written about the new amendments, which will greatly strengthen the Act’s effectiveness in combating fraud. We congratulate those in Congress with the wisdom to pass the amendments, as well as all involved in this effort!
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New legislation to combat financial institution fraud, securities fraud, mortgage fraud, and other fraud and abuse is gaining momentum, and brings closer long-needed amendments to restore to its intended strength the nation’s major “whistleblower” law, the False Claims Act.

The Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 (S. 386) received support yesterday in a statement from the Administration:

The Administration strongly supports enactment of S. 386. Its provisions would provide Federal investigators and prosecutors with significant new criminal and civil tools and resources that would assist in holding accountable those who have committed financial fraud.