Articles Posted in Recent Developments

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.

Since the SEC refused for years to heed Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolis’ warnings that Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme, we have followed with great interest the efforts of those who sought to create the first meaningful SEC whistleblower program.

The Senate this week took an important step by authorizing a new SEC whistleblower program–one more potent than the SEC apparently wanted–as part of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

When the Madoff fiasco surfaced, Congress asked why the law failed to encourage SEC whistleblowers to come forward, in the same way the qui tam whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act have been so successful in rewarding whistleblowers for helping stop fraud against the government. Those same principles in the new IRS Whistleblower program have caused an explosion of valuable information presented by whistleblowers in exposing tax liability of many billions of dollars.

SEC leadership helped shape the tepid House version, which would have made rewards to whistleblowers wholly discretionary.

When we criticized the House version of the proposed SEC whistleblower rewards for that reason, staffers of the Senate Banking Committee contacted us to discuss what a meaningful whistleblower program should include, based on our experience with whistleblowers under the False Claims Act and IRS Whistleblower program. Our response was that, at minimum, a whistleblower with information about significant fraud must have a legally enforceable right to a meaningful reward.

Fortunately, the Senate version included such a right to an award of 10-30% in substantial cases, and the Senate view ultimately prevailed (see below text of whistleblower provisions in Section 922).

It remains to be seen how SEC leadership will respond. At this spring’s Offshore Alert Conference in Miami, an SEC official listened to his panelists describe how successful mandatory rewards have been in causing whistleblowers to come forward in False Claims Act cases and IRS Whistleblower claims, yet apparently failed to “get” that SEC whistleblowers need a similar incentive to come forward in the best cases.

In our experience in representing whistleblowers, persons with the most significant information will rarely come forward without an enforceable right to a meaningful reward. The SEC has not exactly fostered public confidence in its judgment in recent years. If it embraces whistleblowers as Congress has directed, the SEC will find that–like the IRS Whistleblower Office–it will receive better, and dramatically more, information about fraud within its jurisdiction.

The full text of section 922 regarding SEC whistleblowers is reprinted below:
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A high priority for IRS Whistleblower cases is the abuse of offshore “tax havens” or offshore financial centers to conceal income from the IRS that is subject to U.S. taxation. Over drinks in Miami Beach recently with IRS agents who worked the massive UBS matter, I discussed some of the recent announced cases the IRS has made involving offshore abuses.

Using shell corporations and “nominee” entities established in the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, or a host of other countries that market “secrecy,” those looking to conceal income from the IRS, or assets from potential creditors, have made offshore tax havens a booming business.

An interesting example of allegations of offshore tax violations was described in the Justice Department’s announcement yesterday of the indictment of two Miami Beach hotel developers. Mauricio Cohen Assor and his son, Leon Cohen-Levy. They were charged with conspiring to defraud the United States and filing false tax returns. The government alleged as follows:

According to court documents, the two men and their co-conspirators used nominees and shell companies formed in tax haven jurisdictions, including the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Liechtenstein and Switzerland to conceal their assets and income from the IRS. In order to further conceal their assets and income from the IRS, court documents state the men also provided false and forged documents to banks, opened bank accounts in the name of nominees, titled their personal residences and luxury vehicles in the name of shell companies, filed false and fraudulent tax returns, failed to file other tax returns, suborned perjury in a civil matter pending before the New York Supreme Court by directing individuals to testify falsely under oath, and induced other individuals to make false statements to federal law enforcement agents.

Both defendants are permanent resident aliens who, in 2000, received approximately $33 million from the sale of the New York Flatotel, according to the government. They transferred the proceeds using various Swiss bank accounts in the names of foreign nominee entities, including at least one “bearer share” corporation.

When bearer shares are used, the corporation’s records do not list its owners, as the owners are whoever has physical possession of the stock certificates. As IRS Special Agent Scott Johnson testified by affidavit, “[b]earer share corporations are often used to hide the true ownership of assets because ownership records are not maintained and nominee officers and directors are often used to control the affairs of the corporation.’

Later, the defendants allegedly transferred the funds to accounts of nominee companies at that bank’s New York location, and later to the escrow account of a Florida attorney. The government also alleged that defendants used the money to “fund a luxury lifestyle for themselves and for their family members.”

Offshore tax abuse remains a great priority of the IRS, and thus is a major focus of many IRS Whistleblower claims. The new IRS Whistleblower Program recognizes that whistleblowers have an enforceable right to 15-30% of what the IRS recovers based on information whistleblowers provide.

The government’s full press release is below:
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Since the Madoff and Stanford scandals, we have written about the calls for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to establish a meaningful whistleblower rewards program. Currently, no adequate incentives exist for whistleblowers to speak up when they might have a chance to stop large scale fraud and prevent the next Madoff or Stanford debacle. How much better off would so many Americans be if someone had exposed Madoff before he defrauded so many investors?

Forbes has run interesting column by Bill Singer, calling for a statute that apples “False Claims Act” whistleblower remedies to Wall Street. Why not protect investors from the massive losses that so many incurred? The current system obviously failed to do so. Harry Markopolis has described eloquently how the SEC could do so much better, and new SEC whistleblower rewards should make a huge difference.

We are already seeing the successes of another innovative law based on the same idea, the IRS Whistleblower Program. To stop those who would have you and I carry their share of the nation’s tax burden, private citizens are stepping forward with better and better information to provide to the IRS about significant tax cheating. The quality of the information that our clients are presenting is compelling, and some of it will help stop major abuses of the tax laws.
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Health care cases that our lawyers see most often involve whistleblowers who know of violations of the False Claims Act. While we also pursue many IRS violations under the IRS Whistleblower Program, the health care industry is not the source of most of those claims.

In perhaps a new trend, last week a federal court in Florida agreed with the IRS that a hospital CEO is personally liable for failing to pay over to the IRS close to $2 million in payroll taxes. (Doulgeris v. United States, M.D.Fla., August 03, 2009).

Earlier this year, the chairman of the board of a tax-exempt hospital was held personally liable for the hospital’s failing to collect and pay to the IRS payroll taxes, as the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision. (Verret v. United States, 5th Cir., 2009). The board chair, however, had extensive involvement in the operations of the entity.

Payroll tax fraud thus appears to remain an IRS priority. The reasoning of the Florida federal judge explains how the CEO was found personally liable for unpaid payroll taxes;
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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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Offshore tax evasion and international tax avoidance schemes have been priorities of the IRS and its IRS Whistleblower Program, as our whistleblower lawyer blog has followed repeatedly.

This week, the U.S. prosecution of the former head of UBS AG’s wealth management business, Raoul Weil, took a strange turn as he failed to surrender himself and was declared a fugitive. Weil allegedly conspired to help 17,000 American taxpayers conceal approximately $20 billion of assets in Swiss accounts, to avoid payment of U.S. taxes.

Weil is not the only person to try to conceal himself from the many ongoing DOJ and IRS investigations into tax fraud, tax evasion, and other tax cheating and fraud. In June, former hedge fund manager Samuel Israel III reportedly tried to fake his own death, rather than face a 20-year prison sentence for defrauding investors out of $400 million. (He later turned himself in to authorities.)

Of course, these disappearances raise questions about Bernard Madoff’s actions while not incarcerated as he faces the music for what is apparently perhaps the largest known fraud scheme in history.
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The IRS Large and Midsize Business Division (LMSB) has published a new memorandum on how it will handle IRS Whistleblower claims, the process for citizens to report tax fraud, tax evasion, and other tax noncompliance–and share in the government’s recovery of money. (https://www.irs.gov/pub/foia/ig/lmsb/lmsb-4-1108-052.pdf).

The LMSB Division has responsibility over corporations, subchapter S corporations, and partnerships with assets greater than $10 million. This IRS Division is divided by industry groups, including (1) Communications, Technology, and Media; (2) Financial Services; (3) Heavy Manufacturing and Transportation; (4) Natural Resources and Construction; and (5) Retailers, Food, Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare. (The IRS Financial Services group, as well as the IRS overall, will be especially busy as the troubled economy and the TARP “bailout” motivate more citizens to report tax cheating through IRS Whistleblower claims.)

Among the procedures discussed are measures to protect the confidentiality of the whistleblower and the whistleblower’s information: