Qui Tam Lawyer & Columbus Whistleblower Attorney
As an experienced Qui Tam lawyer and whistleblower attorney based in Ohio, I have been dedicated to defending the rights of whistleblowers since 1993. I have represented numerous clients across the state, including in Columbus, Upper Arlington, Dublin, Westerville, Springfield, Gahanna, Reynoldsburg, Hilliard, and Grove City, as well as residents of Franklin County.
In this article, I’ll address some common concerns and questions about whistleblower and Qui Tam cases, drawing on my decades of experience in this field. If you are aware of a person or business that has committed fraud against the government, I invite you to call my office to schedule a free consultation to learn more about your legal rights and options. As a whistleblower, you could be entitled to a significant monetary reward for exposing fraudulent practices.
What is a Qui Tam Lawsuit?
A Qui Tam lawsuit is a legal action brought under the False Claims Act (FCA), a law that allows individuals to sue on behalf of the United States government in cases where they believe the government is being defrauded. The term “Qui Tam” is short for the Latin phrase “qui tam pro domino rege quam pro se ipso in hac parte sequitur,” meaning “he who sues in this matter for the king as well as for himself.”
In a Qui Tam lawsuit, a private citizen, known as a “relator” or whistleblower, files a suit against an individual or organization that is allegedly defrauding the government. Common examples of such fraud include overbilling Medicare, underdelivering on a government contract, or falsely claiming compliance with certain regulatory standards to obtain government funding.
The Role of the False Claims Act
The False Claims Act is a critical tool in the fight against fraud and misuse of federal funds. Originally enacted during the Civil War to combat fraud by suppliers to the Union Army, the FCA has evolved to address a broader range of fraud against federal programs and contracts. The act includes a provision for qui tam lawsuits, which is key to its effectiveness.
Key elements of the False Claims Act include:
- Rewards for Whistleblowers. The FCA provides financial incentives for whistleblowers. If the government recovers funds due to the lawsuit, the whistleblower can receive a percentage of the recovery (often 15% – 25%). This provision encourages individuals who are aware of fraud to come forward, even in the face of potential retaliation.
- Government Intervention. Once a qui tam lawsuit is filed, it is initially kept “under seal,” meaning it’s not made public, to allow the government to investigate the allegations. The government can then decide whether to intervene and take over the prosecution of the case. If the government declines to intervene, the whistleblower has the right to proceed with the case on their own.
- Legal Protections for Whistleblowers. The FCA includes provisions that protect whistleblowers from retaliation by their employers. This includes protection from being fired, demoted, harassed, or discriminated against due to their involvement in a qui tam lawsuit.
- Substantial Recoveries. The FCA has enabled the recovery of billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury, making it an effective tool for deterring fraud against the government.
Qui Tam lawsuits and the False Claims Act collectively represent a powerful means of exposing and prosecuting fraud against the government. They empower individuals to act as watchdogs on behalf of the government, ensuring that public funds are used appropriately and legally.
What Types of Fraud Can Be Reported in a Qui Tam Lawsuit?
A Qui Tam lawsuit under the False Claims Act (FCA) can be filed for a variety of fraudulent activities that result in financial loss to the federal government. These lawsuits are particularly effective in exposing and penalizing fraud in areas where government spending is substantial. Some common types of fraud that can lead to a Qui Tam lawsuit include:
- Healthcare Fraud | Medicaid & Medicare Fraud. This is one of the most common areas for Qui Tam actions, including fraudulent billing by healthcare providers. Examples include overbilling Medicare or Medicaid, billing for services not rendered, providing unnecessary services, or kickbacks for patient referrals.
- Government Contractor Fraud. This involves contractors overcharging for goods or services, charging for inferior or non-compliant products, failing to meet contract specifications, or not delivering goods or services that were paid for by government agencies.
- Pharmaceutical Fraud. This includes off-label marketing of drugs, fraudulent billing, price fixing, manufacturing and selling substandard drugs, and false claims about the efficacy of a drug.
- Covid Relief Funds Fraud. This pertains to the illegal exploitation of funds allocated for pandemic relief, such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL). Fraudulent activities include falsifying information to obtain loans, misusing the funds for non-approved purposes, or other deceptive practices that contravene the guidelines set for COVID-19 financial assistance programs. Such actions not only violate federal regulations but also undermine efforts to support businesses and individuals genuinely affected by the pandemic.
- Defense Contractor Fraud. Involving fraudulent billing practices by defense contractors, supplying substandard or non-compliant materials and equipment, or charging for services not provided.
- Education Fraud. Misuse of government funds by educational institutions, such as falsifying student data to obtain federal funds, or misrepresentation in research grants.
- Environmental Fraud. This could include falsifying environmental compliance reports or misusing funds allocated for environmental cleanup and conservation projects.
- Grant Fraud. It involves making false statements or misrepresentations to obtain government grants or using grant funds for purposes other than those for which they were allocated.
- Procurement Fraud. Involving bid-rigging, price-fixing, or other manipulative practices to secure government contracts.
- Public Works and Construction Fraud. Includes using substandard materials, inflating costs, or billing for work not performed in public infrastructure projects.
- Agricultural Fraud. Such as misrepresenting compliance with agricultural programs or falsifying subsidy claims.
- Customs and Import Fraud. Involves underreporting the value of imported goods to evade customs duties or violating trade agreements.
- Housing and Mortgage Fraud. Falsifying information for federally insured housing loans or programs.
- Research Fraud. Including falsifying research data to obtain government funding or not complying with the terms of research grants.
These examples represent just a few of the many types of fraud against the government that can be addressed through Qui Tam lawsuits. The key element in each case is the knowing submission of false or fraudulent claims for payment to the federal government. By allowing private citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the government, the FCA provides a powerful tool to uncover and penalize such fraudulent activities.
Who Can File a Qui Tam Lawsuit?
A Qui Tam lawsuit under the False Claims Act (FCA) can be filed by any individual, commonly referred to as a “relator” or whistleblower, who possesses knowledge of fraud being committed against the federal government.
The ability to file a Qui Tam lawsuit is not limited to employees of the company committing the fraud; it extends to a wide range of individuals. The following are some common examples of who might file a Qui Tam lawsuit:
- Employees. Current or former employees of a company that is defrauding the government often file Qui Tam lawsuits. They are usually in a position to have direct knowledge of the fraudulent practices within their organization.
- Contractors or Consultants. Individuals or businesses who work with organizations engaged in defrauding the government can also be relators. As contractors or consultants, they may become aware of fraudulent activities during the course of their business relationships.
- Competitors. Sometimes, competitors in the same industry may have sufficient evidence of a rival company’s fraudulent activities against the government and can file a Qui Tam action.
- Patients or Customers. In the case of healthcare fraud, patients or customers who discover fraudulent billing practices, such as being charged for services they did not receive, can initiate Qui Tam lawsuits.
- Government Employees. In some instances, employees of government agencies who uncover fraud against the government can file a Qui Tam lawsuit, provided they are not part of law enforcement or regulatory agencies directly responsible for investigating such fraud.
- Public Citizens. In rare cases, a member of the public with knowledge of fraud against the government, possibly through public disclosures or in-depth investigation, can file a Qui Tam lawsuit.
However, there are certain restrictions and conditions that apply:
- First-to-File Rule. Only the first whistleblower to file a lawsuit regarding a specific instance of fraud can pursue the case under the FCA. Subsequent lawsuits regarding the same fraud are generally dismissed.
- Original Source Requirement. The whistleblower must have direct and independent knowledge of the information on which the allegations are based and have voluntarily provided the information to the government before filing the action.
- Public Disclosure Bar: A whistleblower cannot file a Qui Tam lawsuit based on information that has already been publicly disclosed through media, government reports, or other public sources, unless they are the original source of the information.
It is vital for potential whistleblowers to consult with an experienced Qui Tam attorney to navigate these complex legal requirements and to ensure the best possible outcome. Legal counsel can also provide crucial protection against potential retaliation from employers or other parties involved in the fraud.
What Are the Risks Associated with Whistleblowing?
Whistleblowers, who either report illegal activities potentially leading to qui tam claims or refuse to engage in such unlawful conduct, often endure retaliation from their employers. This retaliation can manifest as demotion, termination, salary reduction, disciplinary actions, or other adverse employment practices.
Numerous federal and state statutes offer protection to whistleblowers from such retaliatory actions. For Ohio employees, these laws specifically safeguard against negative employment consequences as a result of lawful whistleblowing activities. As an experienced qui tam lawyer with significant expertise in qui tam retaliation claims, I am dedicated to defending whistleblowers.
My approach is to vigorously pursue justice and seek comprehensive compensation for individuals who face illegal retaliation. This includes not only addressing the direct effects of wrongful termination but also advocating for the recovery of lost wages and compensation for emotional distress damages resulting from such retaliatory acts. By law, two times the amount of lost wages is available. In some cases, for a number of reasons, the decision may be made to seek compensation for the employee’s retaliatory termination instead of the qui tam claim. This holistic approach ensures that the full scope of the whistleblower’s damages, both economic and emotional, are recognized and remedied.
How Much Is a Whistleblower Entitled to Receive for Successfully Reporting Fraud?
In a successful Qui Tam action under the False Claims Act (FCA), the whistleblower is entitled to receive a portion of the funds recovered by the government as a result of the lawsuit. The amount a whistleblower can receive depends on several factors, including whether the government intervenes in the case.
- If the government decides to intervene, or take over the lawsuit, the whistleblower is typically entitled to receive between 15% and 25% of the recovered funds.
- The specific percentage within this range is determined based on several factors, including the extent to which the whistleblower substantially contributed to the prosecution of the case.
No Government Intervention:
- If the government chooses not to intervene and the whistleblower continues the case on their own, they can receive a higher percentage of the recovery. In such cases, the whistleblower can receive between 25% and 30% of the funds recovered.
- This higher percentage recognizes the increased risks and efforts taken by the whistleblower in pursuing the case without the government’s direct involvement.
Legal Fees and Expenses:
- In addition to the percentage of the recovered funds, whistleblowers may also be entitled to receive compensation for their legal fees and expenses incurred in pursuing the Qui Tam lawsuit. This is particularly significant in cases where the whistleblower proceeds without government intervention.
It’s important to note that these percentages are subject to negotiation and court approval. Whistleblowers play a crucial role in uncovering fraud against the government, and the financial rewards set by the FCA serve both as compensation for their efforts and risks and as an incentive to encourage the reporting of such fraudulent activities.
Why Is It Important to Have a Lawyer for Qui Tam and Whistleblower Cases?
Qui Tam and whistleblower cases can be complex, involving in-depth investigations and an understanding of specific laws. A Qui Tam lawyer can help navigate these complexities and work to protect your rights and interests.
At Stepter Law Office, we provide personalized service and experienced legal representation. We handle cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning you do not pay unless we recover funds on your behalf.
How Long Do I Have to File a Qui Tam Case?
There are strict time limits, known as statutes of limitations, for filing Qui Tam cases. In general, a lawsuit must be filed within six years of the fraudulent activity.
Schedule A Free Consultation with Experienced Columbus Qui Tam Lawyer Rayl Stepter.
If you’re considering taking action in a whistleblower or Qui Tam case in Ohio, I encourage you to contact Stepter Employment Law for a free consultation. With decades of experience in these types of cases, I am committed to ensuring that your rights are protected and that you are fairly compensated for your courageous act of whistleblowing.
Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing is a brave and necessary action to combat fraud and illegal activities. With the right legal support, you can navigate the challenges of these cases and play a crucial role in upholding the law. For more information, visit my employment law information center or contact my firm at (614) 468-4100 or 866-380-1444.