Many private citizens who are employed by companies that receive federal money or work on federal projects become aware of the fact that their employers have defrauded the government. Private citizens with first-hand knowledge of government fraud have an opportunity, along with a financial incentive, to help recover money from those companies and individuals who have fraudulently obtained federal money. Could you be one of them? If so, there are many statutes, or written laws, designed to assist your efforts in helping the government recover the ill-gotten gains.
The Federal False Claims Act
The federal False Claims Act is widely regarded as the most effective tool in combating fraud, waste and overall abuse of federal spending. The Act imposes liability on any person who submits a claim to the federal government that he or she knows, or should know, is false. Since January 2009, the Justice Department has recovered over $14.2 billion in False Claims Act cases that were initiated by private citizens. Over half of the recoveries, along with a majority of the largest monetary settlements, were the result of healthcare related cases, such as Medicare fraud.
The Qui Tam Provisions
The False Claims Act includes within it a “qui tam” provision, allowing those people not affiliated with the government to file lawsuits on behalf of the government. The success of the False Claims Act is due, in large part, to lawsuits that were brought by private citizens, known as “whistleblowers” or “relators”. Recognizing they lacked the ability and resources to uncover every instance of fraud, the federal government enacted the qui tam provisions, allowing a private citizen to sue an individual or company who knowingly submits false claims to the federal government. Qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act also dictate that whistleblowers receive a share of the government’s monetary recovery. The current average relator’s share of 15 to 30 percent of the total recovery. Today, whistleblowers are a vital resource to the government, providing evidence of fraud that would have otherwise gone undetected.
The basis of every False Claims Act case is that the federal government was defrauded in one form or another. This fraud, or “false claim”, can come in many forms. Just a few examples of false claims are:
- Inflating the price or overcharging for a product
- Underpaying monies owed to the federal government
- Failing to provide or perform a service
- Producing or delivering less than the agreed upon number/amount of goods and services
- Charging for one product and delivering another
- Obtaining federal funds to which one may not be entitled, then using false statements or documentation to retain the money
Elements of a Qui Tam Lawsuit
Potential whistleblowers must generally be aware of the following information before coming forward:
- Whistleblowers should have knowledge of the fraud, not just suspicion.
- Evidence of fraud cannot come from public sources. Examples of public sources include newspapers, TV, magazines, radio, court records, etc.
- Federal monies must be involved or, for those states with a False Claims Act, state monies.
- The person/persons/company that submitted fraudulent claims to the federal government must have done so knowingly and willingly.
- Each case generally must be filed within six years of the violation.
The Anti-Retaliation Provisions of the False Claims Act
The False Claims Act also includes a provision to protect whistleblowers from workplace retaliation. Known as the Anti-Retaliation provision, it prohibits an employer from retaliating against an employee “because of lawful acts done by the employee . . . in furtherance of an action.”
For example, if you file a qui tam lawsuit against your current employer, the provision protects you against forms of retaliation including termination, suspension, demotion, harassment or any other of discrimination in the terms and conditions employment.
If you have information that your employer is defrauding the government, the Law Offices of Berger and Montague can help evaluate your case and, if appropriate, file a qui tam lawsuit.