Meyer, Leonard & Allison, PLLC
Where Experience Makes The Difference
|Office (405) 702-9900
Fax (405) 605-8381
116 E. Sheridan, Suite 207
Oklahoma City, OK 73104
Inquiries: 405-702-9900 -- Local & Confidential
Whistleblowers are individuals that recognize someone has defrauded the government. Whistleblowers are typically ordinary citizens who, while doing their job, recognize that the government is being overbilled or defrauded in some way. Whistleblowers are protected by strict laws from retaliation by their employer should they come forward.
Although the government can theoretically be defrauded countless ways, typically whistleblowers work in the healthcare, military contractor, or other industries where there is government spending. In fact, the healthcare industry is a frequent target of whistleblower lawsuits because of the massive government spending in Medicare and Medicaid, and because there are special laws regarding healthcare providers dealings with Medicare and Medicaid.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and U.S. Associate Attorney General Thomas J. Perrelli announced on January 24, 2011, a new report showing that the government’s health care fraud prevention and enforcement efforts recovered more than $4 billion in taxpayer dollars in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010. This is the highest annual amount ever recovered from people who attempted to defraud seniors and taxpayers.
Most Whistleblower lawsuits involve federal law, but there is an Oklahoma state Whistleblower law as well. Title 74, section 840-2.5 of the Oklahoma Code is the Oklahoma "Whistleblower Act," which was passed as law "to encourage and protect the reporting of wrongful governmental activities and to deter retaliation against state employees for reporting those activities." (74 O.S. § 840-2.5).
On March 2, 1863, the federal government passed the first False Claims Act because President Abraham Lincoln was aggravated over unscrupulous people selling faulty war supplies to the government. History shows that people were selling sickly horses and mules, spoiled food, and faulty guns and ammunition to the government, and President Lincoln wanted them stopped. The law is sometimes referred to as the "Lincoln Law."
The original False Claims Act made it unlawful to defraud the government, and included an incentive for citizens to help find the defrauders -- the "qui tam" provision (pronounced like "key tam").
The phrase "qui tam" is really a shortened version of the Latin phrase "qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur," which means "he who sues in this matter for the king as well as for himself."
What it means in practical terms is that the government will pay you if you are an individual who knows of and brings and action for government fraud. As a tax-paying individual, you are being cheated by every action of fraud on the government, so a qui tam lawsuit is one where you go after the government defrauder on behalf of yourself and the government.
The amount of money a whistleblower can receive from a successful claim can be substantial, ranging from approximately 10-30% of the amount the government recovers. Depending on what claims and charges are found against the defrauder, penalties can include not only the amount of money actually defrauded, but also penalties ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 per claim sent to the government. Additionally, in some instances, the amount of the penalty is tripled. It is, therefore, not uncommon for penalties to be assessed in amounts in the millions, tens of millions, and even hundreds of millions of dollars.
Qui tam claims can result from many situations, but some of the more typical include:
Some actions the government pursues are civil in nature (meaning the defrauder must pay a penalty), and other actions are criminal (meaning the defrauder must pay a penalty and/or do time in jail). In healthcare, for example, the "Stark Law" have civil penalties and are targeting to healthcare providers who refer business to themselves (See LawGuru article re Health Care Fraud). The "Anti-Kickback Laws" are similar but are criminal in nature and deal with the solicitation or receipt of kickbacks for referring business.
For more information regarding healthcare fraud, see Medicare & Medicare Fraud.
The laws governing fraud against the government are some of the most complex and dense in our legal system and are dealt with within the Federal Judiciary. Understanding whether you have a claim and what to do about it are matters which should be considered confidentially with an attorney who understands the complex body of law.
Meyer, Leonard & Allison in Oklahoma City has extensive experience in the federal arena and competence in assessing qui tam matters. To consult in confidence with one of our attorneys, please call 405-702-9900.