The occurrence of wasteful and disheartening grant fraud has led to several recent settlements under the False Claims Act, which is triggered any time federal money is intentionally obtained through the use of fraud and misrepresentation.
In today’s case, we explore the details of a grant fraud case involving Arizona’s Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) and its recent $4.08 million settlement of allegations regarding certain service-education grants offered through AmeriCorps. The case resolves allegations only, and is not a determination of liability in the matter.
The grant fraud was brought to light by a courageous whistleblower who formerly worked for the MCCCD and witnessed forgery of student signatures on volunteer timesheet logs. In exchange for her willingness to come forward, she will receive over $772,000 under the False Claims Act’s qui tam provisions.
Details of United States ex rel. Hunt v. Maricopa County Community College District
The case against MCCCD began several years ago, and involved several students seeking education funding through the national service program AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is administered through the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), an independent federal agency responsible for the administration of several national service programs.
In order for MCCCD students to obtain education grant money from AmeriCorps, each had to perform a requisite number of unpaid volunteer hours, which were to be properly documented and certified by a supervisor.
Allegedly, MCCCD students were helping out with Project Ayuda in order to gather volunteer hours. Project Ayuda – sponsored by the National Association for the Hispanic Elderly – is a program designed to help seniors aged 55 and older find suitable employment. While some students actually completed the requisite number of volunteer hours, others were certified as having contributed the volunteer time despite having not actually met the hours requirements. In order to obtain grant money from AmeriCorps, MCCCD is alleged to have intentionally forged students’ volunteer logs and falsely represented to CNCS that the volunteer work was completed.
Understandably, federal officials did not take too kindly to the misuse of federal funds designed to encourage national and community service. Acting U.S. Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda said in a statement:
“Those who receive federal funds must deal with the government openly and honestly….The Department of Justice will ensure that financial assistance provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service is received only by eligible individuals who satisfy CNCS’s mission of promoting service and education.”
A spokesperson for CNCS further commented:
“Taxpayers are justifiably outraged when a community fails to receive promised services because national service funds were misused….We hope that this settlement will deter other grantees from similar misconduct.” Further, “Our internal process uncovered MCCCD’s mismanagement, and we worked with the Justice Department to ensure that taxpayer dollars were recovered….This is an example of how interagency collaboration works.”
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