The United States Department of Justice announced that a telecommunications provider has agreed to settle a False Claims Act lawsuit, resolving allegations that it submitted false and fraudulent documentation to the government. Lucent Technologies World Services Inc. (LTWSI), a subsidiary of Alcatel-Lucent, will pay $4.2 million to the government as a result of the settlement agreement.
Alcatel-Lucent is a global telecommunications equipment company headquartered in Paris, France. The company provides telecommunications solutions to independent service providers, corporations and multiple governments around the world. Using Alcatel-Lucent products, its customers are provided with voice, data and video services via networking hardware, IP technology, software and other services.
LTWSI, under the Alcatel-Lucent umbrella, works as a military contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense, providing communications equipment for strategic military operations. The LTWSI communications equipment is used by the DOD, supplementing their efforts to stabilize the Iraqi government.
The False Claims Act Lawsuit
In March 2004, the U.S. Army awarded LTWSI with a $250 million contract. According to the details of the contract, LTWSI was to build an Advanced First Responder Network (AFRN). The AFRN is a type of 911 emergency response and first responder communications system. It was designed to function just as an American emergency response system, enabling Iraqi citizens to pick up the phone and call for police, fire or medical assistance in the event of an emergency.
According to the allegations contained in the official compliant, LTWSI provided fraudulent and “misleading” test certifications to the United States Army. These certifications were related to the design, construction and overall modernization of the Iraqi emergency system.
Between January and July 2005, LTWSI allegedly submitted multiple documents stating that it successfully tested the AFRN system’s radio transmission sites. In addition, the documents claimed the AFRN system had been extensively tested “as a whole” and was in proper working order.
The problem with LTWSI’s certification documents, according to the government, was that they were inaccurate. Before the United States government would accept, pay for and transfer LTWSI’s emergency network in Iraq, the company was required to thoroughly test and ensure the AFRN was properly operating. The allegations within the False Claims Act lawsuit content that instead of following protocol, LTWSI simply submitted fraudulent certifications which stated that the network had been tested and deemed ready to be transferred to the Iraqi government for use.
The settlement in this case comes as a result of a whistleblower, or qui tam, suit that was originally filed in December of 2008. Geoffrey Willson, the whistleblower in this case, is a former contract manager at LTWSI. Willson was able to provide the government with vital inside information in this case, as he was the former Lucent Tech senior contract manager for the AFRN project in Iraq.
Willson alleged that LTWSI committed False Claims Act violations by submitting fraudulent claims to the United States government in an effort to receive payment for services and equipment that were, in fact, based on false certifications. Specifically, Willson alleged that LTWSI falsely certified that testing had been done in an attempt to get paid faster. He went on to say that LTWSI’s performance also played a factor in the fraudulent behavior, as it received an $8.5 million bonus for completing the project so quickly.
For speaking out against its fraudulent activities, Willson also allegedly endured workplace retaliation at LTWSI. He claimed he was ostracized and eventually terminated as a result of blowing the whistle.
Under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act, private parties are allowed to sue on behalf of the United States when they have knowledge of fraud against the government. When victorious, whistleblowers are rewarded an amount between 15 and 30 percent of the final settlement. For his efforts in this case, Willson will receive $758,000.
“The integrity of our public contracting system is a matter of paramount concern to the Department of Justice, especially where contractors have been engaged to supply critical support for the work of stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “The department will seek to recover losses to the American taxpayer when a contractor has claimed money to which it was not entitled.”
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