On August 15, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Universal Helicopters Inc. (UHI) and Dodge City Community College (DC3) will pay $7.5 million to resolve allegations of False Claims Act violations. The whistleblower in the case will receive $1.125 million as an award.
UHI is “a private helicopter flight instructor training company,” and it ran a helicopter flight instructor training program with DC3, “which operates campuses in Dodge City, Kansas, and Chandler, Arizona.”
According to the press release, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “provided financial assistance as part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to veterans taking classes at the UHI-DC3 helicopter flight instructor program.” The VA “provides tuition and fee payments directly to qualifying schools on behalf of eligible veterans” as part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill program. If a school wants to qualify for the program, the school must “certify to the VA that no more than 85 percent of the students for any particular course are receiving VA benefits.” The rule is also called the “85/15 Rule.”
“To determine whether it is in compliance with the 85/15 Rule, a school compares the full-time non-VA supported students enrolled in a particular course to the full-time veteran students enrolled in that same course. A separate ratio must be computed for each course of study,” according to the press release.
With the settlement, UHI and DC3 are resolving allegations that from 2013 to 2018, the two entities “falsely certified compliance with the 85/15 Rule when the UHI-DC3 helicopter flight instructor program included certain expensive classes that were taken almost exclusively by veterans.” The government also alleged in the settlement with DC3 that the college “counted part-time students enrolled in only one online class per semester as full-time students, in violation of VA rules.”
For the settlement, “UHI has agreed to pay $7 million and DC3 has agreed to pay $500,000 to settle these allegations. The settlement with DC3 is based on its ability to pay.”
The case stemmed from a qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuit filed by William Rowe, who is a “veteran and former student in the UHI-DC3 helicopter flight instructor program.”
The qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act enable private citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the government if they know of an individual or company defrauding the government. Qui tam whistleblowers are eligible to receive between 15 and 30% of the government’s recovery, if one occurs. In this case, Rowe will receive $1.125 million as a whistleblower award.