Articles Posted in Iraq & Afghanistan Contractor Fraud

In a major victory today for whistleblowers reporting fraud in the Iraq reconstruction effort, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s decision that took away a jury verdict from the whistleblowers or relators in this qui tam case under the False Claims Act.

The Custer Battles case has been a hard-fought one, which until this decision had produced one of the odder results found.

With hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars spent on the Iraq War and Iraq reconstruction, and with the False Claims Act supposedly protecting U.S. taxpayer funds from fraud, the whistleblowers filed a qui tam case under the False Claims Act that alleged fraud in certain contracts that addressed, among other things, replacing Iraqi currency in the Iraq reconstruction effort.

After the jury awarded a verdict to the whistleblowers, the trial court overturned it. The trial court did not view claims presented to the Coalition Provisional Authority (“CPA”) that was created and funded by the United States as the same as claims presented to the U.S. Government, even though the CPA officials were U.S. Government employees, and U.S. dollars were lost. Today’s decision by the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and corrected that odd result.

This is a very positive development for whistleblowers reporting fraud in Iraq and elsewhere, as it corrects a strained interpretation of the law that has allowed fraud to go unaddressed. We congratulate everyone associated with this effort.

The Court’s conclusion from the decision today is quoted below:
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Whistleblowers reporting fraud by contractors in Iraq reconstruction are coming forward, reports Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The relatively calmer conditions in Iraq apparently are a factor in more whistleblowers coming forward, he believes.

From the $21 billion Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund, billions have been lost, according to Bowen.

“Thirty-two billion dollars later, we don’t know a whole lot about what’s happened to that money,” Bowen said.

“The actual reconstruction money, I estimate 15 to 20 percent has been wasted. Roughly $3-$4 billion,” he said. Many projects have been plagued by waste and poor design.

“Millions [have been] wasted at the Baghdad police college because of extremely shoddy construction,” Bowen said.

Iraq reconstruction whistleblowers may receive rewards of 15-30% of the fraud or false claims reported by using the False Claims Act, the major whistleblower law that we have written about often. They may also potentially use the IRS Whistleblower Program to obtain rewards, since illegal activity often results in tax violations.

In this age when fraud and abuse are depleting taxpayer funds, any whistleblower who steps forward to report fraud or other impropriety in the Iraq reconstruction is to be commended.
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Today, we were excited to hear that the Senate Judiciary Committee has sent long-needed amendments to the False Claims Act to the full Senate, as part of the “bailout” and “stimulus” inspired “Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act” (FERA).

Where there are taxpayer funds being spent, there will be attempts to engage in fraud to cheat the public. As hundreds of billions of dollars are poured into federal and state programs through the “economic stimulus” package, the continuation of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (“TARP”), the many federally funded health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and the vast defense procurement industry that is servicing two wars, opportunities for fraud will only increase. The speed at which the “stimulus” funds will be spent will only increase the opportunities for fraud.

Senator Grassley has been steadfast in his efforts to ensure that these taxpayer funds receive the protection of the False Claims Act, which is the primary civil weapon to combat fraud and false claims. This bipartisan legislation would restore the False Claims Act to its original intent by “undoing” several attempts by judges to limit its reach. Among the goals of the Amendments are:

I am very excited about co-chairing the Annual “Whistleblower Law Symposium” once again this week.

From Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, San Antonio, and Washington, D.C., many of the country’s leading attorneys in whistleblower cases under the “qui tam” statute, the False Claims Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley statute, and the IRS Whistleblower Program will gather in Atlanta on March 4 to discuss some of the more challenging aspects of representing whistleblowers (or defending against whistleblower claims) under these laws.

We are honored to have one of the officials of the IRS Whistleblower Office, Dawn Applebaum, join us in person to discuss the progress of the new IRS Whistleblower Rewards Program. The IRS Whistleblower Office has just celebrated its second anniversary.

We are also privileged to have the top state enforcement officials in health care fraud cases from Texas, Florida, and Georgia, to explain how they coordinate state and federal health care fraud whistleblower cases under the federal and state False Claims Acts.

Also joining us is Rep. Edward Lindsey, the Legislative Sponsor both of the Georgia State False Medicaid Claims Act, and recent legislation to solidify Georgia’s Office of State Inspector General.

Because of the wave of new whistleblower statutes that have been inspired by the successes of the False Claims Act, our firm instituted the Whistleblower Law Symposium. Once again, top-notch speakers will address a broad variety of issues that arise under these whistleblower laws, including:

–Whistleblowers in Health Care: Recent Cases and Strategies for Healthcare Providers and Counsel When a Whistleblower Calls

–Recent Developments in Qui Tam Cases Under the False Claims Act-The Relator’s Perspective
–Current Issues in Defending Qui Tam Claims
–Coordinating State and Federal Whistleblower Cases Under the State and Federal False Claims Acts-Current Priorities and Recent Results
–Federal Priorities and Procedures in Qui Tam Cases
–Plaintiffs’ & Defendants’ Approaches to Sarbanes-Oxley Claims
–Update on the IRS Whistleblower Program

We are fortunate to have such excellent faculty members from around the country join us. Our faculty members and their topics are listed below.
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Once again displaying the effectiveness of the False Claims Act in combating government fraud, the Justice Department has announced that it recovered $2 billion in fraud cases in the latest fiscal year that ended September 30, 2007. Qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act accounted for at least $1.45 billion of those recoveries, with the whistleblowers (or “relators’) sharing in those recoveries.

In all but one year since 2000, False Claims Act cases have generated at least $1 billion in recoveries, with whistleblowers responsible for cases that produced most of those judgments and settlements.

Health care fraud cases involving Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs once again generated the most dollars–$1.54 billion, more than 75% of the total recoveries.

Fraud affecting health care is a frequent topic of our whistleblower lawyer blog. A new report on TRICARE, the U.S. Military’s health care system, shows that medical fraud continues, as honest whistleblowers and their lawyers continue the fight against government fraud.

More than 200 “qui tam” whistleblower cases were mentioned in the annual report of the Program Integrity Office of TRICARE, and more than 200 whistleblower cases have been brought each year since 2002.

The Report outlines numerous types of health care fraud, including double billing, upcoding, kickbacks, illegal drug marketing practices, and quality of care violations. The Report notes that TRICARE obtained judgments for $36.7 million for 2006, including a settlement with Tenet Healthcare Corporation for more than $20 million.

Some of the country’s leading attorneys in qui tam whistleblower cases and IRS Whistleblower cases will gather for the “First Annual Whistleblower Law Symposium,” which will take place at the Georgia State Bar Headquarters on Thursday, September 20, beginning at 9:00 a.m. (See Agenda below). This Whistleblower Law Symposium is organized and co-chaired by the authors of this whistleblower lawyer blog, Michael A. Sullivan and Richard W. Hendrix.

The presenters will include the very successful Pat O’Connell of the Texas Attorney General’s Office, whose group has recovered more than $216 million in health care fraud cases since 1999; and Jim Breen, who has represented relator Ven-A-Care of the Florida Keys Inc. in many very substantial qui tam cases, including the action that led to last week’s announcement by DOJ of a settlement with Aventis Pharmaceuticals Inc.

In addition, Steve Cowen of King & Spalding, LLP will chair a discussion of issues in defending False Claims Act cases; Marlan Wilbanks and other relators’ counsel will speak as well; and Charlie Richards of the Georgia Attorney General’s Office and Georgia’s Inspector General Doug Colburn will discuss the new Georgia State False Medicaid Claims Act.

We will also discuss the bill introduced last week by Senators Grassley, Durbin, Specter, and Leahy to make substantial modifications to the federal False Claims Act, the “False Claims Act Correction Act of 2007.” (See http://grassley.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressReleases.Detail&PressRelease_id=fac0a482-1321-0e36-ba6f-0150b8a2b182&Month=9&Year=2007).

Further, my partner Richard Hendrix and I will explain and discuss the new IRS Whistleblower Program created by Congress in December 2006. I spent several hours this past week in Washington with the Director of the new IRS Whistleblower Office, Stephen Whitlock, to prepare for and appear in a panel discussion to explain the new IRS Whistleblower Program. I also enjoyed lunch with the lead IRS official responsible for IRS Whistleblower claims in the financial services industry, Stuart Mann, and with Nicole Cammarota, an IRS official who is working on the new regulations. There is a great deal of excitement about this new IRS Whistleblower program, which rewards citizens who report large tax fraud, tax evasion, and other tax law violations to the IRS. (Our firm is pursuing a variety of IRS Whistleblower cases across the country.)

For anyone who believes that taxpayers pay too much to allow fraud against the federal and state governments, these exciting new developments in the law are important.

We are excited to be hosting this Whistleblower Law Symposium, and to discuss recent developments in the False Claims Act, the new state False Claims Acts, and the new IRS Whistleblower Program. The Agenda for the Symposium is below.
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Whistleblowers and whistleblower attorneys may consider Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa as the “patron saint” of protecting taxpayer money from fraud against the government. Sen. Grassley continues his great work as he testifies today before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Iraq contractor profiteering and fraud.

The Senator already claimed another recent victory by spearheading passage of the new IRS Whistleblower Rewards Program. Sen. Grassley saw how cost-effective the False Claims Act has been in recovering more than $20 billion for the government–largely because of the improved qui tam whistleblower enhancements enacted in 1986. (Sen. Grassley and Rep. Howard Berman were sponsors of the landmark 1986 amendments to the False Claims Act.)

Sen. Grassley was to testify that the False Claims Act whistleblower statute should be strengthened to deal with contractors such as Halliburton. He mentioned trying to recover $60 billion for meals not provided to the military by the defense contractor.

We found a very interesting article from last week’s Legal Times, with an excerpt of interest to whistleblower lawyers as follows:

“Last fall, the Justice Department launched a National Procurement Fraud Task Force to focus “resources at all levels of government to increase criminal enforcement” in areas of procurement fraud. The stepped-up attention to this area throughout the government may signal that the $3.1 billion record in federal fraud recoveries in 2006 could soon be broken. More than 50 inspectors general from across all government departments and agencies also are actively pursuing thousands of investigations.”

“In addition, powerful newly installed Democratic committee and subcommittee chairs in Congress are launching dozens of oversight investigations of alleged government and contractor abuses, focusing on the reconstruction effort in Iraq and in the U.S. Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina, numerous areas of military and homeland-security procurement, the pricing of pharmaceuticals and other significant areas of federal contracting. For instance, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., in the first week of February began one set of hearings on alleged waste, fraud and abuse by government contractors in Iraq and another set of hearings on alleged overcharging by drug companies in federal health programs.”

Congressional Committee Explores Contractor Overcharges

Of great interest to whistleblower lawyers is how much suspected fraud and abuse has occurred in Iraq reconstruction contracts. Goverment auditors recently announced that they now believe that Iraq contractor fraud and abuse may be three times greater than the previous estimates–and may affect one out of every six dollars spent in the Iraq reconstruction effort.

The estimate has grown from $3.5 billion to more than $10 billion in “questioned and unsupported costs,” according to the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), which audits Iraq reconstruction contracts and troop support contracts of the Department of Defense and the U.S. military.