Posts Tagged ‘whistleblower case’

Military Contractor PTP Settles Whistleblower Case

James Hoyer Partner Jillian Estes interviewed by ABC Action News

James Hoyer Partner Jillian Estes interviewed by ABC Action News about the PTP whistleblower case settlement

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.

Click here to watch the ABC Action News story on the whistleblower case by Investigative Reporter Adam Walser .

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.”

PTP- ABC Aidan intv

James Hoyer Client Adain Toprakci interviewed via FaceTime by ABC Action News

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.

The Defendants

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.

 

How Justice Scalia’s Death Could Impact Pending Whistleblower Case

Justice Scalia's death to impact whistleblower case
Justice Scalia's death to impact whistleblower case

Credit:  Steve Petteway, Staff Photographer of the Supreme Court

As reported around the world this weekend, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away of natural causes at the age of 79.

Justice Scalia, who at the time of his death was the longest serving Supreme Court justice, was the most outspoken and arguably the most influential of the conservative 5-4 majority. Read More…

 

James Hoyer Part of Global Whistleblower Settlement with For-Profit College EDMC

Jason Sobek - EDMC Whistleblower

Jason Sobek – EDMC Whistleblower

The Department of Justice announced it has reached a landmark, global settlement with Education Management Corporation, the 2nd largest for-profit education company in the country. EDMC agreed to pay $95.5 million to settle allegations that the company violated federal and state False Claims Act laws.

James Hoyer client Jason Sobek, a former EDMC Project Associate Director of Admissions, was one of several whistleblowers who came forward to expose issues regarding how the schools recruited students and reported job placement numbers.

EDMC was accused of using predatory techniques to lure students to sign up, misrepresenting its job placement statistics, and paying employees incentives based on the number of students recruited. EDMC runs several for-profit colleges, including South University, The Art Institutes, Arogsy University, and Brown Mackie College.

“We are gratified that information Jason provided helped lead to the resolution of this case with a landmark, global settlement,” said Chris Casper, James Hoyer Managing Partner. “We are hopeful this will prompt much needed change in practices used by the for-profit college industry.”

The Department of Justice news release explains:

The primary allegation was that EDMC unlawfully recruited students, in contravention of the HEA’s Incentive Compensation Ban (ICB), by running a high pressure boiler room where admissions personnel were paid based purely on the number of students they enrolled.  In addition to resolving these and other FCA claims, the global settlement also encompasses an investigation by a consortium of state Attorneys General, of consumer-fraud allegations involving deceptive and misleading recruiting practices.

In addition to offering information and help to federal investigators, Sobek shared his story with the public to help shed light on EDMC practices, warn students and bring about change.   Among those reports were a story with ABC Network News, WTAE TV in Pittsburgh, and WFTS TV in Tampa.

Sobek’s portion of the settlement amounts to $2.5 million which will be paid out over the course of several years. Under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers are entitled to a percentage of a settlement as a reward for bringing forward information that leads to the recovery of money on behalf of taxpayers.

Click here to read more on the settlement in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Click here to read more on the settlement in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Click here to read more on the settlement from WTAE TV in Pittsburgh.

Click here to read more on the settlement from CBS News.

 

Are Federal Agencies Immune From Whistleblower Cases?

Whistleblower Case

Whistleblower CaseSome potential clients have asked: are federal agencies immune from whistleblower cases?

For example, a federal health agency employee may have witnessed what they perceive the be wasteful spending of Medicare dollars or in some cases outright fraud. As any taxpayer would, they’d like to report what they’ve seen done with taxpayer money, and if found to be true, be rewarded for their efforts.

Unfortunately, the answer to the question of whether they can bring a False Claims Act (FCA) whistleblower case against their federal employer is generally “no.”

This is because “federal agencies are not proper Defendants for a qui tam action under the FCA. Not only is this the equivalent of the United States suing the United States, but the United States has not waived sovereign immunity as to FCA claims.” Taxpayers of the U.S. v. Bush, 2004 WL 3030076, *5 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 30, 2004) (finding FCA contains no waiver of sovereign immunity); Juliano v. Fed. Asset Disposition Ass’n, 736 F. Supp. 348, 351-53 (D.D.C. 1990) (declining to expand FCA to allow a qui tarn suit against a federal agency where not provided for under the statute); see also Balser v. Dep’t of Justice, Office of U.S. Tr., 327 F.3d 903, 907 (9th Cir. 2003) (finding suits against federal agencies are suits against the United States and the United States is immune absent waiver of sovereign immunity).

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained:

The Supreme Court has held that states are not “persons” subject to qui tam liability under the FCA. The Stevens Court did not reach the issue of sovereign immunity, construing the FCA to avoid that constitutional question. The Supreme Court did, however, rely on canons of statutory construction related to state sovereignty, such as (1) the presumption that the term “person” does not include the sovereign; (2) the rule that Congress must clearly state its intention to subject states to liability; and (3) the presumption against imposition of punitive (treble) damages on governmental entities. Relying on Stevens, we have held that “states and state agencies enjoy sovereign immunity from liability under the FCA.”

United States ex rel. Ali v. Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall, 355 F.3d 1140, 1145 (9th Cir. 2004) (omitting several citations to Vt. Agency of Natural Res. v. United States ex rel. Stevens, 529 U.S. 765 (2000)).

So what can these potential whistleblowers do? Well, they are always free to report their allegations through one of various fraud hotlines that will look into the claims and hopefully recover any ill-gotten or wasted taxpayer money. Unfortunately, the whistleblowers can’t expect a relator’s share for their good deed.

 

Whistleblower Case Exposes Harm to Babies and Moms

13 WTHR Indianapolis

The case of a baby who suffered permanent neurological damage during birth was exposed in a whistleblower case filed by James Hoyer client Dr. Judith Robinson.  WTHR, the NBC affiliate in Indianapolis, profiled the story of little Denise and her mom, Nancy Koger. The Koger’s case was one of three permanently injured babies and 17 “near misses” in a six month period documented by Dr. Robinson when she worked at IU Health and Methodist Hospital.  Dr. Robinson blew the whistle on the health network for allowing midwives to care for low-income, high risk, pregnancy patients, in violation of state Medicaid rules by filing a whistleblower case.

Investigative Reporter Sandra Chapman took viewers into the delivery room to witness alarming moments during baby Denise’s birth and revealed that her mom required an emergency C-section, after a mid-wife missed key warning signs two days earlier and sent her home. As a result, Denise suffered brain damage.  The toddler is now in a wheelchair, unable to talk and must be fed through a tube.  Nancy Koger is in the process of filing suit against IU Health and Methodist Hospital.

WTHR Report- PART 2: Mom Claims Botched Delivery & Missing Medical Records13 WTHR Indianapolis

In this second report, WTHR Investigative Reporter Sandra Chapman looks at the case of Dorothy Riggle and her daughter Crystal, who is now 10-years old. Crystal suffered brain damage and permanent injury to her arm and eye after a traumatic birth, at Methodist Hospital. Her mom says a midwife refused to call a doctor when she came to the emergency in labor, despite telling her that she had a high risk pregnancy. Adding insult to injury, the hospital told them it lost the medical records of Crystal’s birth, so their efforts to take legal action have been compromised.