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Editorial

Around our town...Legally Speaking


03/01/2005 - WHISTLE BLOWERS: AMERICA'S LAST LINE OF DEFENSE

Since the Civil War there have been laws on the books which allow private citizens who identify fraud against the United States of America to step into the shoes of the government and sue the person or corporation which has been defrauding the government. This unique set of laws is called the False Claims Act. In 1986 the Congress of the United States realized that fraud against the government had become rampant and moved to pass bills which strengthened the ability of private citizens to identify and pursue companies that were stealing from the United States. The advent of this strengthened law led to a new and powerful tool to stop theft from the United States. Since the advent of the 1986 amendments to the false claims act, private citizens, referred to as Relators, have identified and recovered billions of dollars stolen from the government by unscrupulous contractors, vendors, and recipients of federal benefits.

In return for identifying, pursuing and obtaining a return to the government of fraudulently stolen money, the Relator receives 15 to 30 percent of the money returned to the government coffers. These whistle blowers have in many ways become the United States' last line of defense against widespread fraud by corporations doing business with or receiving benefits from the United States. In a Senate Select Committee on fraud by oil companies the Senate commended the hard work of diligent whistle blowers and admitted that the sheer scope and size of the oil industry made it impossible to protect the Government against fraud by oil companies without the help of whistle blowers who were willing to put themselves in personal peril and expend extraordinary energy to expose theft of Government assets under the False Claims Act.

In most cases these Relators are common citizens who through their jobs discover that the company they work for is in some way defrauding the United States. Relators range from construction workers and oil field gaugers, to medical industry employees, to Corporate CEO's. Anyone that has evidence and information that exposes fraud against the Government is a potential Relator under the False Claims Act.

The following list shows the wide variety of Frauds that courageous citizens have exposed using the False Claims Act.

$29 million recovered by the Government from Lifemark Hospitals of Florida, a subsidiary of Tenet Healthcare Corporation. Tenet and its subsidiary allegedly participated in a host of schemes including submitting false Medicare claims for home health services; for hospital services not rendered; for services provided by unskilled, unlicenced, or uncertified personnel; for services not ordered by a physician; and for services inadequately documented as required under the program.

$21.5 million recovered from Union Oil Company of California (Unocal) for allegedly underpaying the Department of Interior royalties owed for oil extracted from federal and Indian lands. Unocal was the last of 16 major oil companies to settle claims in four related False Claims Act cases in which more than $430 million was recovered by the federal government.

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$8.7 million recovered from Intertek Testing Services Environmental Testing Laboratories. Intertek held contracts with the Air Force, Navy, Army Corps of Engineers, and Environmental Protection Agency to test air, liquid, and soil samples for hazardous substances. The settlement resolved claims that Intertek failed to perform tests as required by its contracts.

If you are aware of a fraud taking place which steals taxpayer dollars, don't just stand silent, but stand up and be heard. Call an attorney experienced in actions under the false claims act and discuss the possibility of filing a False Claims Act suit. As a citizen with knowledge of fraud against the government and the tools put at your disposal by the False Claims Act, you can stop the theft.

Tom Sedar, P.C. is an attorney-at-law practicing in Casper.

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