Articles Posted in TARP Funds Fraud

When the Wall Street “bailout” grew with Congress’ creation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), Sen. Chuck Grassley emphasized the importance of “whistleblowers” and the False Claims Act to protecting these taxpayer funds from fraud and abuse.

Tonight, the House added to the bailout by passing the economic stimulus package, HR 1, and approved an amendment adding whistleblower protection for federal employees.

The stimulus bill reportedly provides for $523 billion in spending, and $275 billion in tax cuts. It originally lacked protection for federal employees who are whistleblowers. An amendment by Reps. Todd Platts, R-Pa., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. added those protections from last year’s thwarted Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which cleared the House but not the Senate.

The history of government spending programs proves beyond doubt that the vast majority of fraud and abuse can only be revealed by whistleblowers. Protecting taxpayer dollars means protecting and rewarding whistleblowers. As Sen. Grassley observed in a November 17, 2008 letter about TARP:

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.

Both the False Claims Act and the IRS Whistleblower Program will be important in stopping fraud and misuse of taxpayer funds. When there is fraud, there is often an IRS violation as well.
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Financial fraud is a frequent topic of whistleblower cases and of this whistleblower lawyer blog, especially with TARP and the Wall Street “bailout” dominating headlines.

Senators Chuck Shumer and Richard Shelby have proposed a bipartisan bill to bolster federal resources to combat securities fraud and accounting fraud, the Supplemental Anti-Fraud Enforcement (“SAFE”) Markets Act.

Here are excerpts from the Senators’ announcement:

As our government hemorrhages its taxpayers’ funds to “bail out” firms that made poor decisions–such as American International Group (AIG), Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and American Express–a just-issued report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) raises a disturbing question: have many of the same firms already been avoiding paying their “fair share” of U.S. taxes by using offshore tax “havens”?

If so, whistleblowers will be performing a civic duty by reporting any tax evasion and noncompliance through the IRS Whistleblower Program.

“This report shows that some of our country’s largest companies and federal contractors, many of which are household names, continue to use offshore tax havens to avoid paying their fair share of taxes to the U.S. And some of those companies have even received emergency economic funds from the government,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan. “I think we should take action to shut down these tax dodgers and we will be introducing legislation to do just that.”

GAO’s findings included that:

Eighty-three of the 100 largest publicly traded U.S. corporations in terms of 2007 revenue reported having subsidiaries in jurisdictions listed as tax havens or financial privacy jurisdictions and 74 of the 83 had federal contracts in fiscal year 2007. For the 74 corporations, the amount of the federal contract obligations ranged from $12,000 to over $23 billion.

Several insurance companies, including American International Group Inc., Hartford Financial Services Group, Travelers Cos. Inc., Allstate Corp. and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. reportedly have subsidiaries in tax havens or financial privacy jurisdictions such as Bermuda and Switzerland.

With a “tax gap” of more than $350 billion each year–the amount owed but not paid in federal taxes–it is galling to most taxpayers to see any company that avoids paying its fair share now receive billions more in a “bailout” through the TARP program.

The GAO report did not state that any of the listed firms utilizing tax “havens” were necessarily violating current law. Sen. Dorgan did say that he planned to introduce legislation to “shut down these tax dodgers.”
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Continuing the “bailout,” the Treasury Department has just announced the release of $14.77 billion in TARP funds to what it refers to as 43 “local” banks (listed below).

“Local” may be a misnomer, as the list includes $10 billion to Bank of America Corp., and more than $3 billion to American Express Company.

Let’s hope that Congress and the Treasury Department make good on the promise to protect these taxpayer funds through effective oversight, meaningful restrictions, and whistleblower protections, and that Sen. Grassley’s prediction that the qui tam whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act will be used vigorously to redress any fraud or abuse with TARP funds comes true.

Below are today’s announced recipients of the funds:
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Much criticism has flowed from how the first $350 billion in TARP “bailout” funds are being used. Thus far, the need for additional restrictions to prevent and penalize fraud and abuse of TARP money remains unmet.

In response, yesterday House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank proposed legislation establishing greater limits on use of TARP funds, among other things.

The “TARP Reform and Accountability Act of 2009” (HR 384) would require quarterly reports from recipients on their use of TARP funds, restrict the use of TARP funds for acquisitions, and impose further limits on executive compensation. Among its other terms are that it would increase the authority of the Financial Stability Oversight Board.

The Treasury Department last week issued its December 2008 report to Congress on what it has done with the “bailout” funds through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and Capital Purchase Program (CPP). With more than 200 institutions receiving taxpayer money, an overriding question is how to prevent and redress the inevitable fraud and abuse of TARP and other taxpayer funds, through whistleblowers and other means.

Treasury reported that, as of December 31, 2008, it had invested $177.5 billion in more than 200 U.S. financial institutions. As discussed previously on the whistleblower lawyer blog, Treasury recounted its announced assistance to General Motors and GMAC, as part of the Automotive Industry Financing Program (AIFP).

Treasury also described its New Year’s Eve investment in Citigroup of $20 billion in preferred stock and warrants, as part of a new Targeted Investment Program (TIP). It also discussed reporting to Congress on the “Asset Guarantee Program,” an insurance program.

Treasury’s list of institutions receiving funds is reprinted below.

With abuses already being reported by TARP whistleblowers, we urge the government to act decisively to plan for and redress the inevitable abuses that will occur. Sen. Grassley has emphasized that the qui tam whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act be used to deal with TARP bailout fraud and abuse, as we have discussed previously. The IRS Whistleblower Rewards Program should also serve an essential role in protecting taxpayer funds, as well as rewarding whistleblowers.
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The TARP bailout funding continues, as the Treasury Department announced today that it will buy $5 billion in senior preferred equity with an 8% dividend from GMAC LLC.

Senator Charles Grassley has emphasized that TARP and other “bailout” funds must be protected through whistleblower protections and whistleblower laws such as the False Claims Act. The GMAC announcement today will present ample opportunities to test those premises on which Congress approved the bailout funding.

The Treasury announcement is reprinted below:
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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.

Fraud is rampant, as proven by the evidence brought to light by so many of our whistleblower clients under the qui tam statute, the False Claims Act, and now under the new IRS Whistleblower Program.

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.

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