Any individual who has provable evidence of fraud against a government agency can file a lawsuit under the False Claims Act. A whistleblower is entitled to anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of the revenue recovered in what is known as a qui tam case. The false claims act also protects the whistleblower from retaliation by the defendant from job loss and threats of harm to one’s reputation.
Fraud against the government can be evident in the form of Medicare or Medicaid fraud, defense contractor fraud, FHA mortgage fraud and off label drug marketing, as common examples.
Some of the largest civil recoveries under the False Claims Act were against pharmaceutical companies for marketing products for treatments not approved by the FDA and paying kickbacks to medical professionals to prescribe the drugs.
Under the false claims act, the federal government has recovered $47.5 billion from 1986 to 2015. Whistleblowers accounted for approximately two-thirds of the recovered money under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. The courageous individuals who did the right thing, have benefitted from awards totaling over $5.2 billion. Whistleblowers played a crucial role, in 2015 alone, in the recovery of approximately $2.8 billion, receiving awards of over $597 million.
Once an individual has evidence of fraud against the government and is willing to take the leap of faith and blow the whistle, it is imperative that person retains a lawyer who is experienced in whistleblower cases. The attorney will often assist in the government investigation into the claims of the whistleblower while the government decides whether or not to intervene in the case. The work performed by the representing attorney will be key to the outcome of the case regarding the amount of any award.
To be eligible to receive an award under the False Claims Act, certain criteria must be met. It is not as easy as pointing the finger at a suspected business or individual. One needs to be the first to file a case as a whistleblower. In addition, the information regarding the fraud must not be public, as in the news or contained within a government report. Above all, it must also be unquestionably demonstrated to the government’s attorneys that the fraud committed caused significant harm to the taxpayers and it can actually be proven.
The False Claims Act requires a qui tam case to be sealed for 60 days, however the courts will grant multiple extensions to permit the investigation to continue prior to the governments decision whether to join the case. Some government investigations can take years. During the investigation, the government may request that the seal be lifted partially to discuss a possible settlement. Settlements through negotiations are the means of resolution in most qui tam cases, rather than a court trial, although some case do go to court.
To determine the amount of the award received by the whistleblower, or “relator,” depends on many factors including the quality of the case, as presented to the Justice Department, and how much the whistleblower’s attorneys work contributed to the success of the case. With government intervention in the case, the whistleblower is entitled to 15 to 25 percent of the recovery. Without government intervention, with the case being settled or won by the whistleblower team, the whistleblowers share is between 25 and 30 percent.
Vititoe Law Group represents and protects individuals who believe a business or individual has defrauded the government. To learn more about qui tam and to find out if you may have a case under the False Claims Act please visit our blog titled “Do You Have a Qui Tam Whistleblower Lawsuit.”