October 24, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that Dallas-based engineering firm AECOM agreed to pay $11.8 million to resolve allegations it violated the False Claims Act (FCA) by knowingly submitting false claims to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the replacement of certain educational facilities located in Louisiana that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina. WNN previously reported the DOJ’s settlement with Xavier University of Louisiana and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans for $12 million with respect to their alleged role related to the same qui tam lawsuit.
Between 2006 and 2010, AECOM served as a technical assistance contractor supporting FEMA disaster recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina. In this role, AECOM prepared requests for public assistance funds on behalf of applicants, including damage descriptions, estimates of the repair damage, and estimates of the cost to replace structures.
In 2016, whistleblower Robert Romero filed a lawsuit under the FCA. His qui tam lawsuit alleged that between 2005 and 2019, AECOM personnel knowingly submitted false photographs, claimed damage to non-existent buildings, and exaggerated repair estimates to increase funding for applicants. It also alleged that AECOM management was aware as early as 2011 but failed to notify FEMA and that certain applicants conspired with AECOM by certifying the reports’ accuracy.
The whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act permit private parties to file a lawsuit on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in a portion of the government’s recovery. The United States may intervene in the action, as it did in part in this case.
This settlement with AECOM resolves the claims brought in Romero’s qui tam lawsuit. As part of the settlement with AECOM, Romero will receive more than $2.4 million. The United States has now recovered nearly $25 million in connection with the disaster assistance applications prepared by AECOM.
The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.