People Technology & Processes, LLC (“PTP”), a defense contractor based in Lakeland, Florida, agreed to settle a whistleblower case in which the company was accused of billing for work never performed for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, the James Hoyer law firm announced today. The company was also accused of falsifying records to cover up the fraud. PTP paid the U.S. government $320,000 to resolve the allegations of improper billing and fraud.
Improper Billing & Cover up
The allegations were exposed in a whistleblower lawsuit filed by former PTP employee Aidan Tamer Toprakci, a James Hoyer client. Toprakci is a billing and accounting software specialist for PTP and discovered multiple billing discrepancies and efforts to cover them up. He resigned from the company in November of 2012, after efforts to get PTP to address the problem were rebuffed. In 2013, Toprakci filed suit under the False Claims Act, which allows private citizens to act on behalf of taxpayers when they discover fraud against the government.
“I was auditing the records to make sure billings were done correctly, when I discovered they were billing for an employee who had been fired,” Toprakci said. “I brought it to their attention, but they were not interested in correcting the problem. They started retaliating against me for raising the issue. It upset me greatly that I believed the U.S. Army was being ripped off, and I did not want to be a part of that.”
The government’s investigation after Toprakci filed suit confirmed that PTP was not only billing for an employee who had been fired, but also for an employee who was on vacation for a month and others even before they started working for the company. Toprakci also provided evidence that the Defendants falsified records to cover up the fraudulent conduct.
PTP was a U.S. Army subcontractor for ManTech International, one of the prime U.S. contractors providing services in Afghanistan. PTP billed ManTech for false hours, which U.S. taxpayers ultimately paid for.
Victor Buonamia is the President and CEO of PTP, and Nicole Buonamia, his daughter, is the CFO. The improper invoices submitted by PTP from November of 2011 through June of 2012, were signed by Victor Buonamia, Nicole Buonamia, or both.
Stiff Penalty Sends Message
PTP was required to pay two-and-a-half times damages in this case, a penalty rarely sought by the government and an indication of the severity of the allegations.
“The level of disregard and abuse of taxpayer money is astonishing here,” said James Hoyer partner Jillian Estes who represents Toprakci. “It was very important for the government to seek the most severe damages to send a message that this behavior will not be tolerated by government contractors and subcontractors.”
“All contractors and subcontractors, who are ultimately paid with American taxpayer dollars, will be held accountable for submitting fraudulent claims to the Government,” said Special Agent in Charge of Defense Criminal Investigative Services, Southeast Field Office, John F. Khin, in a news release by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Past Problems with PTP
This is not the first time PTP has had a problem with performance. In a suit with primary contractor SAIC, the company was chided for putting troops in danger in Afghanistan. According to the lawsuit between SAIC and PTP:
On August 28, 2013, the Army and several Defendants personnel had a meeting, during which the Army stated it was ‘fed up’ with PTP’s poor performance, lack of management, hostile work environment with a pattern of EEO violations/racial discriminations, and practices which endangered the lives of military personnel.
“This company was not only endangering the lives of soldiers, but also stealing money intended to keep them safe. It’s a pattern of bad behavior that has to stop,” said attorney Estes.
The False Claims Act
The False Claims Act is the government’s most successful tool in fighting fraud. In 2016 alone, the Justice Department recovered more than $4.7 billion from False Claims Act cases, the 3rd highest annual recovery in FCA history. It would not be possible without brave whistleblowers like Aidan Toprakci, a native of Turkey who became a United States citizen in 2016.
“Like so many other courageous whistleblowers, Aidan put his livelihood on the line to come forward and expose fraud on behalf of American taxpayers,” said Estes.
“I am grateful to this country, and I want to give back for the many opportunities I have received here. I am proud that my efforts returned money to U.S. taxpayers,” Toprakci said.
As an incentive to come forward to expose fraud against the government, whistleblowers receive a percentage of the money recovered as a reward. In this case, Toprakci received 20% of the government’s recovery as a reward for his efforts.
Click here to read a news story on the settlement in the Lakeland Ledger.