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This is Part II of this whistleblower lawyer blog’s description of how IRS Tax Whistleblower officials have explained many of the long-awaited details of the new IRS Whistleblower Rewards Program to whistleblower attorneys at the annual Taxpayers Against Fraud Conference in Washington, a national organization of whistleblower lawyers who represent whistleblowers under the False Claims Act, the state False Claims Acts, and the new IRS Whistleblower Rewards Program for tax whistleblowers. Both parts summarize information provided by IRS Whistleblower officials at this Conference, at which I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion with the Director of the IRS Whistleblower Office, Stephen Whitlock, and later spending time with other IRS officials from the IRS group responsible for the Financial Services industry (including hedge funds), Large and Mid-Sized Business Division, Stuart Mann and Nicole Cammarota.

The investigation of matters submitted by whistleblowers will be handled not by the Whistleblower Office, but by other IRS officials–in the field. The Whistleblower Office will initially perform a screening function at the beginning of the process, with “classifiers” reviewing the claim submissions and directing them to the appropriate persons within the IRS for investigation, if an investigation is warranted.

If an investigation results, and the government recovers funds (tax liability, interest, penalties, or other amounts), Director Whitlock then will determine the amount of any award to the whistleblower or whistleblowers. The new statute allows the whistleblower to appeal any determinations to the Tax Court to review decisions about rewards.

The threshold question for persons seeking to submit IRS Whistleblower claims is to demonstrate plainly to the IRS why–with so many potential matters that the IRS already has to investigate, and with limited resources–pursuing an investigation suggested by an informant is the best use of the IRS’ limited resources. Not all potential tax violations can be investigated–or will be investigated–by the IRS. Thus, the challenge is to present a whistleblower claim that the IRS will decide to pursue–and pursue vigorously.
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From potential clients seeking information about the new IRS Whistleblower Rewards Program that our attorneys have written about extensively, questions have been asked about the statute of limitations for tax whistleblower cases.

If a whistleblower informant possesses information concerning false of fraudulent tax returns filed with the intent to evade taxes, 26 U.S.C. § 6501(c)(1) provides for no statute of limitations. In the case of a willful attempt in any manner to defeat or evade income tax obligations, once again, the IRS may assess such taxes at any time without regard to a specific statute of limitations.

Thus, in cases involving fraud, these provisions provide no statute of limitations. The same is true in the case of a failure to file a return. If the taxpayer fails to file a return and has earned income on which taxes are owed, once again, these provisions provide for no specific statute of limitations.

Another False Claims Act Recovery by Government Lawyers Is Part of $42.65 Million Heath Care Fraud Settlement

A qui tam whistleblower case alleging Medicaid fraud by Maximus, Inc. of Reston, Virginia led to a $30.5 million settlement under the False Claims Act this week.

According to the Justice Department, the whistleblower case settlement accompanied a deferred prosecution agreement and corporate integrity agreement by Maximus to end the government’s investigation of Maximus’ contract with the District of Columbia’s Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA). Maximus had contracted to assist CFSA in submiting claims to Medicaid for services that the District allegedly provided to children in its foster care program. The services were known as “target case management “(TCM) services, which were intended to help foster children with their medical, social and educational needs.

Taxpayers every day lose money because of fraud against their government. Current examples include government contracting fraud in Iraq, procurement fraud regarding the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Hurricane Katrina and numerous false claim schemes under both the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Those who are bent of fraud are usually clever and devious. This is the very reason why President Abraham Lincoln enacted the False Claims Act during the American Civil War in 1863.

During the Civil War, as today, there were greedy contractors bent on defrauding the government at taxpayer’s expense. At President Lincoln’s request, the False Claims Act was enacted into law and was specifically directed at an effort to “root out fraud against the government. . .[a]nd to encourage individuals who are aware of fraud being perpetrated against the government to bring information forward.” Thus, “Lincoln’s law,” the False Claims Act, has literally been on the books for over 140 years.

The False Claims Act as sponsored by President Lincoln was designed to help the government stop procurement fraud during the Civil War. Congress intended that the False Claims Act would encourage private citizens to file cases in the name of the United States to recover damages when false and fraudulent claims were submitted to the government. These lawsuits, oftentimes called Whistleblower or Qui Tam cases, provide a way for private citizens to share in the recovery of damages recovered. The term “Qui Tam” described the procedure well and derives from a Latin phrase which means “Who pursues the action on our Lord the King’s behalf as well as his own.”

As former federal prosecutors, it is always of interest to us to read about grand jury indictments involving fraud schemes. We have presented many such indictments to grand juries ourselves and know how the system works. On Tuesday of this week, a grand jury in Washington, D.C., returned an indictment against three Army Reserve Officers and two civilians based on allegations that they steered more than $8.6 million dollars in Iraqi reconstruction funds to a contractor in exchange for a variety of kickbacks and other inducements. The 25 count indictment, which includes charges of conspiracy and money laundering, is obviously the “Tip of the Iceberg” because the amount of money at issue in this particular scheme ($8.6 million) is insignificant when it comes to the billions of dollars that are still unaccounted for according to the Special Inspector General’s Office responsible for the oversight of the expenditure of government monies in Iraq.

The Department of Justice has always tried to publicize indictments in specific areas because of the “deterrent affect” it might have relative to others. Here, however, the proverbial horse is already out of the barn and there is not going to be much deterrence with respect to the billions already spent and unaccounted for (typically in no bid contracts). Hopefully, this indictment is a sign of things to come in terms of holding accountable those who would defraud their own government when it comes to schemes of this nature.

We continue to believe that Whistleblowers and Qui Tam lawsuits are the best deterrent there is for schemes of this nature. When you hit someone’s pocketbook, particularly companies who enrich themselves at taxpayers’ expense, with the treble damages and attorney’s fees and other remedies available under the False Claims Act, this truly does have a deterrent effect on others. Indictments, of course, are necessary in order to prosecute the guilty but with respect to the ill-gotten gain, indictments are not the best vehicle for getting taxpayer money back. While the government presumably will proceed in this case with forfeiture actions because of the money laundering charges, nonetheless, whistleblower suits are still the government’s most effective tool at combating fraud and waste.

In February, 2006, President Bush signed into law the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA). An obscure provision within this Act mandates that entities receiving greater than $5 million per year in Medicaid payments must educate their employees about “whistleblower” claims under the Federal False Claims Act. Under the DRA, effective January 1, 2007, as a requirement of continued eligibility for the receipt of Medicaid payments, any entity receiving annual payments of $5 million or more in Medicaid funds must have mandatory compliance and education programs in place for its employees to provide detailed information about the Federal False Claims Act. This education must include information provided to employees about administrative remedies, state laws pertaining to civil or criminal penalties, whistleblower protections, and the role of such laws in preventing and detecting fraud, waste, and abuse in federally funded healthcare programs.
Congress has clearly recognized that the government has a strong need to contain costs through increased fraud and abuse enforcement. Medicaid spending, like Medicare spending, is exponentially increasing. Medicaid enrollment increased from ten (10) million beneficiaries in 1967 to over 44.7 million beneficiaries in 2006 according to statistics published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Along with this increase in beneficiaries, Medicaid expenditures have also dramatically increased. In fiscal year 2005 Medicaid expenditures approximated twenty percent (20%) of total federal outlays.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in its fiscal year report for 2005 documented that $484.3 billion had been spent in the fiscal year 2005. Given this staggering amount of money, and because the percentage of the total federal outlay was expected to exceed twenty percent (20%) of the total federal budget, Congress enacted the mandatory employee education provisions about false claims recovery to encourage whistleblower lawsuits and, hopefully, thereby decrease fraud and abuse.

In addition to providing written policies for all employees, the mandatory policies and compliance programs must include detailed provisions regarding the employer’s policies and procedures for detecting and preventing fraud, waste and abuse. The written policies must include a specific discussion of federal and applicable state False Claims Acts, and the rights of employees to be protected from retaliation as whistleblowers. Ironically, as of the effective date of this provision, there is no state False Claims Act in Georgia. This is very discouraging. Nonetheless, this too may change depending upon the actions of the Georgia Legislature when it meets in 2007.

Section 6031 of the Deficit Reduction Act encouraged the enactment of state False Claims Acts by providing financial incentives for states to enact laws dealing with false or fraudulent claims (specifically including Medicaid claims) that parallel the federal False Claims Act. All states that enact state False Claims Acts are eligible for a ten percent (10%) increase in their share of Medicaid fraud recoveries. Many states have already availed themselves of this opportunity to participate in an increase share of Medicaid fraud recoveries but Georgia has yet to pass such legislation. Whether it will do so, of course, depends upon Governor Perdue and the Republican controlled State House and Senate.
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According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States has spent to date over $437 billion on the Iraq War. An additional $100 billion is estimated to be spent this year. While much of the money, obviously, goes for troops, a great deal of these amounts has gone to civilian contractors involved in reconstruction efforts in Iraq. But where has the money gone and who is accounting for its proper use?

According to Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, “Eventually we’re going to have a bill for about $1 trillion dollars and people are not going to be able to account for a very, very large part of it.” It is shocking to us that the Justice Department has done so little to address ever increasing reports of contractor fraud and abuse in Iraq. After three and a half (3 ½) years of war, to the best of our knowledge, not a single criminal case has been filed against any large corporation doing work in Iraq. While a few qui tam actions are beginning to emerge publicly, given that the war effort is taking place in a foreign country which obviously creates evidentiary issues, it may be some time before the full extent of contractor fraud and abuse becomes publicly known. Nonetheless, given the amount of no-bid contracts, this proves to be a major problem.

We support any effort to increase criminal penalties for those who exploit the war effort and obviously would encourage greater, not fewer, False Claims Act cases directed at such fraud and abuse. Billions of tax dollars are being spent on the war effort and most agree that billions are probably being lost to contractor waste, fraud and abuse. If contractor fraud continues to go unchecked in Iraq, the Government only invites more fraud. Accordingly, the whistleblower plaintiff’s bar should step up its efforts and utilize where applicable the government’s most effective tool in combating waste fraud and abuse in government programs: the False Claims Act.

The salutary intent of the Deficit Reduction Act was to require that employers educate employees about the Federal False Claims Act and, hopefully, address fraud and abuse by employer entities receiving $5 million dollars or more in federal funds under the Medicaid program. When the Deficit Reduction Act was passed in 2005, a debate emerged about whether the DRA education provisions mandating employee education about the Federal False Claims Act applied directly to healthcare providers and/or whether states receiving Medicaid had to pass implementing legislation to make the provision effective. In December of 2006, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) set the record straight. An “entity” includes a government agency, organization, unit, corporation, partnership or other business arrangement (including any Medicaid managed care organization, irrespective of the form of business structural or arrangement by which it exists) whether for profit or not for profit, which receives or makes payments under a state plan approved under Title XIX or under any waiver of such plan, totaling at least $5 million annually. In short, states do not have to implement legislation to make the provision effective and any entity receiving $5 million or more annually in Medicaid benefits must implement the mandatory education provision.
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Just before Christmas I read an article about a case in Texas where a doctor was sentenced to a lengthy prison term for a scheme to defraud Medicare and Medicaid in excess of $25 million. The doctor had been approached by individuals offering to pay him a kickback for supplying Certificates of Medical Necessity (CMN) approving a beneficiary to receive a motorized wheelchair. I have been watching TV and seeing these adds for sometime about scooters for disabled individuals and I was wondering how so many people could be approved by Medicare and Medicaid to receive these products. At least in this one case in Texas, the doctor was being paid money by the suppliers of these motorized wheelchairs to certify that the people needed them.

In the case in Texas, according to the government, the doctor involved not only got a kickback for signing the CMN but told the disabled patient that unless that patient utilized his services for even more fraudulent billing of Medicare and Medicaid claims that he would not sign their CMN and help them get their wheelchairs. According to prosecutors, the supply companies who provided the wheelchairs in many cases provided less expensive scooters to the patients or nothing at all. The cost to the government, over $25 million in claims.

This case is a classic example of where the government’s pocketbook is opened for looting by those who have no compunction to do so. Given the large amounts of money going to this doctor one would think that the government’s computerized system would have picked up that something was amiss. Before the scheme was uncovered, $25 million in taxpayer money was paid out to those involved in the conspiracy to defraud the government. Because of the lack of oversight, these people operated for several years with impunity. While the articles I read did not say how it is that the scheme was finally brought to the attention of the government (I would suspect an informant), at least these people were caught and prosecuted. One would hope that the informant had filed a qui tam action under seal and that he and his attorneys were paid for bring this outrageous fraud to the attention of the government.

This is the second part of my article explaining the False Claims Act–it addresses the history of the Act:

II. Background of the False Claims Act
While the False Claims Act may be the best known qui tam statute, it is far from being the first. Qui tam actions date back to English law in the 13th and 14th Centuries. This tradition took root in the American colonies and, by 1789, states and the new federal government had authorized qui tam actions in various contexts.7
According to one writer, “[i]n the early years of the Nation, the qui tam mechanism served a need at a time when federal and state governments were fairly small and unable to devote significant resources to law enforcement. As the role of the Government expanded, the utility of private assistance in law enforcement did not diminish. If anything, changes in the role and size of Government created a greater role for this method of law enforcement.” 8

A. Birth of the False Claims Act
The Civil War prompted Congress to enact the original False Claims Act in 1863. As government spending on war materials increased, dishonest government contractors took advantage of opportunities to defraud the United States government. “Through haste, carelessness, or criminal collusion, the state and federal officers accepted almost every offer and paid almost any price for the commodities, regardless of character, quality, or quantity.”9 The original legislative proposal would have made contractors subject to martial law. A substitute bill provided for both civil and criminal penalties, and it authorized private individuals to sue on behalf of the United States. One senator explained how the qui tam provision of the Act was intended to work:

The effect of the [qui tam provision] is simply to hold out to a confederate a strong temptation to betray his co-conspirator, and bring him to justice. The bill offers, in short, a reward to the informer who comes into court and betrays his co-conspirator, if he be such; but it is not confined that class. . . . In short, sir, I have based the [qui tam provision] upon the old fashioned idea of holding out a temptation and setting a rogue to catch a rogue, which is the safest and most expeditious way I have ever discovered of bringing rogues to justice.10
The original Act provided for civil penalties of double the amount of damages sustained by the United States as a result of the false claim, plus a $2,000 forfeiture for each claim submitted.11 In the original Act, if a private citizen used the qui tam provision to file suit, the government had no right to intervene or control the litigation. The “relator” who was successful was entitled to receive one-half the amount of the final judgment in forfeiture and damages, with the United States receiving the other half.12 Continue reading →

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