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Qui Tam Lawyer Asks: Why Nothing for the Unfortunate Whistleblowers?

The article cited below from Legal Newsline came to me via one of the more prominent (ok maybe the most prominent) pro-False Claims Act lawyer websites. 

It was circulated to make the point that to collect a reward under the False Claims Act, whistleblowers have to file a complaint. That’s a fair point, but I think we have to look a little harder at what happened in this particular case. The first paragraph of the article is a bit of a head-scratcher:

“Two whistleblowers won’t share in a once-$43 million penalty against a husband and wife who have been sentenced to federal prison for defrauding the federal government by submitting false claims at their pain clinics.”

See what I mean? If they are whistleblowers and the government got the $43 million under the False Claims Act the couple could be entitled to … well let’s do some math here; 15 percent of $43 million is, wow, more than $6 million.

There does not seem to be a dispute that the whistleblowers in this case were responsible for tipping off the government and making it possible for the government to collect the money. Unfortunately, they tipped off the government anonymously and they did not file a False Claims Act case until after the government obtained criminal indictments of the defendants.

There also appears to be no dispute over the fact that the government pursued the case as a result of the information provided by the whistleblowers.

The Fifth Circuit ruled that because there was an indictment on the record prior to the plaintiffs’ filing a false claims act case they could not collect. The False Claims Act does have a provision which bars a case based on an indictment like this.

Personally, I think that these people should have been awarded something. After all, they worked with the government and admitted to the government that they were the anonymous whistleblowers behind the tip when contacted. The tip was apparently in 2007, and the government spoke to them in 2009. They filed their False Claims action in 2011. Who knows why they waited to file a case? It’s easy to say they should have run to the nearest False Claims lawyer and filed something immediately, but the fact is the government apparently had their full cooperation.

Nothing? The government secured criminal convictions and $43 million. Maybe the people who provided the tip had reasons to be scared of the process for all or some portion of the time that they waited to file.

I’ll try to check out some of the filings and see if there is more to the story, as I’m sure there will be more to come.

However, it seems a little too easy to say you have to file to win. We want people to report facts that rise to the level of criminal behavior in health care. If, and I say IF, these whistleblowers were key to a case that resulted in criminal indictments in the health care administration as well as a substantial financial recovery for the government, don’t they deserve some kind of reward? Should the failure to follow the full requirements of the False Claims Act procedure have this kind of a result for people who should be considered heroes?

Anthony C. “Tony” Munter represents the courageous individuals who report fraudulent claims made against federal and state government agencies.  Mr. Munter has extensive experience in using the so called qui tam provisions of state and federal False Claims Acts to protect the rights of whistleblowers who want to stop fraud. For more information, contact Mr. Munter’s DC law office.