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Are you a whistleblower? Do you know of someone cheating the Government or about a fraud, false claim, or improper charge the United States is paying?
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When an individual or company commits fraud against the United States, the United States taxpayers are the victims. The False Claims Act was established to hold those who defraud the Government accountable for their actions.
The “Qui Tam” provisions of the False Claims Act provide an avenue for private citizens, known as whistleblowers, to file a lawsuit on the Government’s behalf to recover taxpayer dollars. These lawsuits are initially filed by the whistleblower under seal to protect his or her identity, until the Government determines whether to pursue the claim as an active party alongside the whistleblower. If a lawsuit is successful, whistleblowers have the potential to receive between 15% – 25% of any recovery made by the United States.
Although the potential financial reward of uncovering fraud against the United States is significant, being a whistleblower is not without risk. More often than not, whistleblowers are current or former employees who have witnessed fraud being committed by their employers against the United States. This presents numerous legal and ethical issues for the whistleblower. A whistleblower is best served by hiring competent and experienced counsel who can navigate the complex issues of the False Claims Act experienced in “qui tam” litigation allowing for the best opportunity for recovery. Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore has attorneys who can guide you through these issues. Call us today to schedule a meeting if you have knowledge of fraud against the Government.
Where can you find the False Claims Act and what type of conduct does it cover?
The False Claims Act can be found in the United States Code, Title 31, Sections 3729 through 3733. A broad range of conduct can constitute a violation of the False Claims Act. Typically, a violation occurs when an individual or company:
(1) knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment to the Government;
(2) knowingly uses, or causes to be used, a false or fraudulent document or statement to receive a claim paid by the Government;
(3) conspires with others to defraud the Government by receiving payments from a false claim; or
(4) knowingly creates, or causes to be created, documents or statements to be used to conceal, avoid, or decrease an obligation to pay money or transmit property to the Government.
What does “qui tam” mean?
Qui tam stems from a latin phrase meaning he who brings a suit for the king as well as for himself. Essentially, qui tam is a term used for the provisions of the False Claim Act, which allows private citizens to file suit on behalf of the United States for fraud against the Government.
Who can file a qui tam suit?
Nearly anyone with direct knowledge of fraud against the Government can file a qui tam suit. The most common whistleblowers are current and former employees of companies defrauding the Government. However, the qui tam provisions of the False Claim Act were purposefully drafted to include a broad range of qualified whistleblowers.
What is the deadline for filing a qui tam suit?
To file a qui tam suit, a whistleblower has the longer of either: (1) six years from the date of a violation; or (2) three years from the date the Government knows, or should have known, about the violation. However, the maximum deadline to bring a qui tam suit is 10 years from the last violation, regardless of the Government’s knowledge.
Will a whistleblower’s identity remain secret throughout the case?
When a qui tam suit is initially filed, it is filed under seal. This means that the identity of the whistleblower and the suit are kept secret so that the Government can evaluate the suit and determine whether to join as a party. Eventually, however, the suit filed by the whistleblower will be disclosed to the defendant and the public, along with the whistleblower’s identity.
If the Government does not join as a party to a qui tam suit, can a whistleblower still proceed with the lawsuit?
Yes. If the Government decides not to join as an active party, the whistleblower may continue with the lawsuit. However, the Government will remain a named party to the lawsuit and will still be entitled to receive at least 70% of any recovery obtained by the whistleblower.
How much may a whistleblower recover if a qui tam suit is successful?
If the Government intervenes and takes over as the active party on a qui tam suit, a whistleblower will recover between 15%-25% of the proceeds of the settlement of the claim. Where a whistleblower’s recovery falls within the 15%-25% scale depends upon the contribution by the whistleblower to the case. However, if the Government decides not to join as a party and the whistleblower proceeds with the suit, then the whistleblower may recover between 25%-30% of the settlement proceeds.
Can there be more than one whistleblower in a qui tam suit?
Yes, the False Claims Act allows whistleblowers to join as parties in a qui tam suit.
How long will the qui tam suit take?
Given the complex nature of False Claims Act lawsuits, a whistleblower’s claim could take several years. The whistleblower’s involvement in the suit as it progresses depends on the amount he or she is contributing to the Government’s case.
Is a whistleblower’s inquiry with Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore kept confidential?
Yes. A whistleblower’s initial inquiry is absolutely confidential. Wagner, McLaughlin & Whittemore cannot disclose any information provided by whistleblowers to anyone without their consent.
Do whistleblowers have an independent case against their employers if they are fired or discriminated against for bringing a qui tam suit?
Section 3730(h) of the False Claims Act is aimed at protecting whistleblowers from retaliation or discrimination by employers for aiding in a False Claims Act investigation. The section has been commonly referred to as the “whistleblower protection” provision. Under Section 3730(h), the whistleblower is entitled “to all relief necessary to be made whole.” Relief typically includes reinstatement, back pay with interest, and any compensatory damages for having to bring the retaliation claim.
If the Government is already aware of the fraud, can a whistleblower still file a qui tam suit?
Generally, the False Claims Act bars a qui tam suit based on evidence or information provided by the whistleblower which was already in the Government’s possession.