Whistleblower Lawyer in Washington DC
The term “whistleblower” applies to any individual exposing wrongdoing, but the most successful whistleblowers — the ones you may have heard about most often — are those that filed qui tam cases under the False Claims Act. The law is designed to protect whistleblowers and make it worthwhile to report fraudulent activities. Learning how the law works is crucial for anyone hoping to do the right thing. Furthermore, if you believe you may have knowledge of a potential False Claims Act or qui tam claim, please contact the law office of an experienced DC whistleblower lawyer.
Qui Tam Law – The False Claims Act
Legislation creating the False Claims Act passed Congress and was signed into law in 1863 under the Lincoln Administration. The law came about to fight rampant fraud being committed against the Union Army during the Civil War. While the law has undergone many amendments throughout history, the idea behind it remains the same today. The law is designed to encourage whistleblowers and through that encouragement help the government recover money from those who commit fraud.
The so-called qui tam provisions of the Federal False Claims Act give an individual a private right of action in court. A person can file a case on behalf of themselves and the government against the defendants. This special right enhances an individual’s ability to blow the whistle. Under this law whistleblowers can fight the defendant, they are not limited to sounding an alarm.
A whistleblower who files a successful case under the Federal False Claims Act can receive as much as 30 percent of the amount recovered by the government in civil damages and civil penalties. Since government contracting is invariably big business, the awards can be large as well.
Fear is the enemy of every whistleblower. That fear is, unfortunately, not unfounded. Those who would defraud the government may also try to retaliate against honest individuals. While all threats against whistleblowers cannot be eliminated the law does provide certain protections. First of all, a whistleblower can also sue for retaliation and, if successful, may obtain double their back pay plus other damages.
Second of all, the False Claims’ Act’s unique procedure can help as well. The case is filed “under seal,” or in secret, to allow the government to investigate the claims and decide whether or not to join the case. At least initially, the defendant will not know the identity of the person who filed the suit. Eventually that information will likely come to light, but the time period of the case being under seal may provide an opportunity for someone to build a new life away from a company that wants to defraud the government.
Reporting fraud is a serious endeavor and serious whistleblowers can be rewarded under the law for their work and the information they have provided. If you are considering filing a whistleblower action, you should strongly consider contacting sound legal counsel before taking any action to ensure that your rights and reputation are protected.
What is a Whistleblower?
The term “whistleblower” can apply to any individual who exposes wrongdoing.
As a result of the heroic efforts of many whistleblowers, the value of the information whistleblowers provide, and the important role they play in improving society, the work of whistleblowers is finally starting to gain recognition. The most financially successful whistleblowers, the ones you may have heard about most often, are those who filed qui tam cases under the federal False Claims Act. (See 31 U.S.C. §§3729-3733 a pdf copy.)
This law is designed to make it worthwhile for individuals to report fraud committed against the United States. Learning how this law works is crucial for anyone who wants to expose fraud against the government. If the whistleblower files a case under this law and the government is able to obtain a recovery that whistleblower can earn between 15 percent and 30 percent of the recovery. As a result, many cases have been won or settled for millions of dollars and many fraudulent and dangerous schemes have been exposed.
These financial incentives exist precisely because of what we all know to be true. To fight wrongdoing government officials desperately need the information only a whistleblower can provide. Indeed, study after study confirms that government regulators and investigators need help from of people with inside information to bring about reforms or prosecute major cases.
The point of the Federal False Claims Act as well as the many State False Claims Acts, is to provide an incentive structure to support the brave individuals who want to report fraud. There are many other whistleblower laws, including several that also encourage the whistleblower to come forward and earn a potential reward. There is an IRS qui tam law to report major tax fraud as well as two new laws which encourage reports of financial fraud through the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Whistleblowers and Whistleblowing do come with a measure of legal protection and potential incentives, which is good to keep in mind. There are environmental whistleblowers, financial whistleblowers, medical and defense contracting whistleblowers. If there is an industry or profession in which fraud or wrongdoing is practiced, chances are there is a whistleblower who is trying to help reform it.
Many whistleblowers, even many who have earned rewards, did not know these incentives existed until they found an attorney. Sometimes whistleblowers come forward to stop the wrongdoing first, and only learn about their rights afterward. Hopefully one result of increasing publicity for whistleblowers is that people who want to report wrongdoing will know to contact counsel and get help they need before they take the difficult step of reporting fraud and wrongdoing.
In addition to financial rewards, the False Claims Act also provides protections for whistleblowers. It may be possible to sue for double the backpay a whistleblower is owed plus re-instatement damages and special damages if the whistleblower suffered retaliation as a result of fighting fraud against the government.
However, being a whistleblower, especially when reporting a major fraud scheme, is complicated. Obviously the forces who want to continue to commit these schemes are powerful. The laws are complex and the procedures usually require the help of an attorney who is well-versed in this specific area of the law.
Qui Tam Laws Specific to States
The Federal False Claims Act is a very powerful tool to fight fraud. It is limited only in the sense that a case must involve U.S. government money. What happens if the fraudulent scheme a whistleblower wants to report involves state government? To bring actions involving state claims the whistleblower must do so through a State False Claims Act action. Fortunately, 29 states and the District of Columbia have their own false claims laws. These laws give whistleblowers an opportunity to use additional avenues to uncover fraud and, if they are successful, to collect additional claims. Most state laws follow the federal law as a model. Like the Federal False Claims Act, most state laws allow the state to recover up to triple the damages caused by the defendant. Because state laws vary, it is important to contact a Washington, DC qui tam attorney if you are living or working in the District of Columbia.
To better understand how the damages may be multiplied consider this: If it’s found that a company, after it was reported, had fraudulently obtained $1 million from the state government, that company — known as the defendant — may be held liable for up to $3 million in damages, plus potential civil penalties. The amount a whistleblower can collect under a state law varies from state to state. Again, however, much like the Federal False Claims Act, State False Claim Act suits usually involve a substantial percentage of any possible recovery.
The most famous whistleblower cases involve awards that have ranged in the millions of dollars. Still, most whistleblowers, even the most famous, often wait until they are in a serious bind to call an attorney. Most whistleblowers don’t realize they may be entitled to a reward until long after they have raised the red flag at their work, and suffered dire professional consequences that can also impact their personal lives. They usually don’t consider their own needs prior to reporting fraud internally. Thus, they usually seek out help only after they have been fired or are about to fired for reporting the fraud to their boss. This is why obtaining the services of a dedicated DC whistleblower attorney is important. Your attorney can explain that even if you have already been terminated, you still have the right to take action as a False Claims Act whistleblower. Whistleblower cases, however, can become complicated quickly. They can involve state and federal law, government regulations, and special procedures. The cases usually also require complicated negotiations with both government officials and private defendants. It is more than likely any serious whistleblower case will need to draw upon the comprehensive legal experience a full-service law firm can provide.