The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) kicked off the week strong with two False Claims Act settlements, both of which involved qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuits. The agency continued the momentum, ending the week of March 7 with another False Claims Act action.
The qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act enables 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.
The DOJ announced on March 10 that global health nonprofit organization Project Concern International (PCI) will pay $537,500 to resolve allegations that it “knowingly submitted false claims to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).”
According to the press release, a whistleblower provided information that prompted the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the USAID Office of Inspector General (OIG) to review “of PCI internal communications and financial records.” The review of communications and records ”for the period 2014 to 2016” found that “PCI was improperly shifting costs between projects, and sometimes using USAID grant funds to cover for privately-funded projects.”
The press release highlights allegations that “once grant funding for one assistance project was depleted, PCI supervisors would instruct employees to bill their time or other costs to separate and unrelated USAID grant projects that had money remaining in their accounts, even though those employees did not work on that project.” PCI then allegedly falsely certified to USAID “that it used the grant funds only as allowed under each project.”
According to the press release, PCI, “through its legal counsel, “cooperated with the investigation and agreed to settle the matter prior to a determination of liability in the civil case.”
As part of the settlement, PCI will “reimburse USAID $215,000, the estimated amount of mis-charged costs, and an additional multiplier penalty under the False Claims Act of $322,500, for a total of $537,500.” The company will also “pay the reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by the whistleblower.”
“This agreement demonstrates our resolve to hold accountable any organization that mishandles federal funds,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves in the press release. “Organizations such as PCI are entrusted to provide vital humanitarian assistance to those in need, and the United States will ensure that a violation of that trust will be investigated and prosecuted.”