Most of us have heard the term “whistleblower” before, and some of us may even be familiar with people called whistleblowers through the media (the 2010 movie Whistleblower and the HBO show The Newsroom spring to mind). But who are these people really? And what do they have to do with the False Claims Act?
The U.S. False Claims Act, or the FCA for short, is a federal law that prevents companies and organizations from misusing government funds.. Examples of violations of the FCA can include: using government grant money outside of the approved purpose, failing to deliver some or all of an agreed amount of goods or money to the government, knowingly selling damaged or defective equipment to the government (like counterfeit aircraft parts), or presenting a false claim for payment (like Medicare fraud), among other things. This law is especially important in a place like Huntsville, Alabama, where so many companies are working with government money or providing goods and services to the government.
But, how does the government learn that a company or organization is misusing funds or committing fraud? About 70% of FCA cases are initiated by people called “whistleblowers,” or the people who bring the misdeeds to the attention of the government. These whistleblowers, or “relators” as they are called under the FCA, are the people that have knowledge of misuse of government funds or knowledge of fraud committed against the government, and come to a lawyer to bring the company or organization to justice. Sometimes the term whistleblower is used to mean people who bring to light misdeeds by the government, but for the purposes of the FCA, relators are people who draw attention to the activities of a company or organization that dishonestly uses government (taxpayer) funds.
You may be wondering why a whistleblower or a relator would choose to come forward with any knowledge they have. Thankfully, these people are protected from retaliation under the FCA, and they usually come forward to stop fraud and because they will receive part of whatever fine the company ends up paying in exchange for the information the relator has. The relator does this through a lawyer who then helps them take their information to the government and helps them with the following legal proceedings. These lawsuits are initially filed under seal and remain secret for a period of time to allow the government to investigate the whistleblowers allegations. At some point, however, that seal is lifted.
If you or someone you know is in position to be a whistleblower, contact Mastando & Artrip. We handle cases under the FCA, and will be happy to talk to you about whether you have a case.