Public Works Fraud Attorney
Public Works Projects: When Benefiting the Public Good Turns into Fraud
Highways, roads, overpasses, bridges, schools, and government buildings—all of these undertakings are examples of public works projects. They cost billions yearly, but are meant to benefit us as a society or country. Many of us see the end results as worth the cost.
Fraud and wrongdoers, however, always seem to be lurking about whenever large sums of money are involved. Public works fraud often has to do with money or material goods, but it can also involve more than money—it can encompass public health or safety threats, using unqualified workers, or colluding to rig a contract’s bidding process. Such unlawful activities can be reported by whistleblowers under the False Claims Act’s qui tam provisions.
Dangers to our Health and Safety
Most people, when they think of fraud against the government, consider money first. But hazards to public health and safety can loom large in public works projects. One example of a significant public safety hazard is the qui tam suit against Trinity Industries for deadly guardrails. Here’s the story: At one point, the company changed the manufacturing specifications for the guardrails’ end caps, creating a weaker structure that was dangerous to anyone striking them in an accident; numerous people were killed and maimed. Trinity did so without informing the government and, because they were paid by the government, their manufacturing changes became prosecutable fraud.
In 2015, the court handed Trinity a $663 million judgment, with the whistleblower receiving $199 million, the full 30 percent which can be awarded to a whistleblower under the law. Trinity is appealing the case.
In another case, set in rush-hour Boston during July, 2006, a portion of the I-90 Connector Tunnel collapsed, killing a car’s passenger and injuring the driver. A chain reaction had been triggered by the failure of the anchors in the tunnel’s roof slab, with the end result that 50,000 pounds of concrete dropped onto the road and the car’s unfortunate occupants. This “Big Dig” case, as the project was known in Massachusetts, led to civil and criminal cases in which Bechtel Infrastructure Corporation, PB Americas Inc., and certain design consultants settled for $458 million. An unnamed whistleblower contributed to bringing those responsible to justice.
Of course, much of the time it is simply greed that sparks a lot of public works qui tam whistleblower cases. Here are two recent suits:
- Chicago, 2014: McHugh Construction was ordered to cough up $12 million for contract fraud. It was alleged that the company redirected funds that were supposed to go to minority-owned and women-owned companies to its own fake companies. The public works projects in question occurred between 2004 and 2011, and the whistleblower received a little more than $2 million.
- Wisconsin, January, 2016: A contractor, Novum Structures of Menomonee Falls, settled a qui tam whistleblower suit that involved a “Buy American” violation for $2.5 million. Allegedly the company used materials produced in China while claiming they were U.S.-made. Novum Structures also pleaded guilty to the concealment of a material fact, generating an additional $500,000 fine. A former employee who served as the whistleblower will receive roughly $412,000.
Types of Public Works Fraud
If the project is a public works one, and the fraud involves financial wrongdoing, dangers to public safety (for example, supplying defective rebar to a nuclear waste processing plant), or violations of a government contract, a case can often be brought under the False Claims Act.
Areas of prosecutable fraud include:
- Billing for materials never delivered
- Billing for work at overinflated rates
- Billing for work that was never done
- Breaching any “Buy American” requirements
- Bribes and kickbacks, both receiving and paying
- Deliberately overcharging for materials
- Double billing
- Faking test results and progress reports
- Hiring unqualified workers, or non-union workers for a job whose contract specifies union labor.
- Illegal bidding schemes and collusions such as bid-rigging (where one party is promised the contract but, for the sake of appearances, others also submit bids)
- Inflating overhead expenses or any other costs
- Lying about a contractor/subcontractor’s minority status
- Making any kind of false statement to get or keep a contract
- Not compensating workers properly
- Not complying with any provisions of the contract
- Substituting substandard or unsuitable materials.
Reporting Fraud on Public Works Projects
Any individual who has actionable information can report fraud or false claims by using the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. With public works, potential whistleblowers could be one of the following types of workers:
- On-the-job foremen or superintendents
- Structural engineers
- Safety engineers
- Quality control inspectors or personnel
- Purchasers of materials or inspectors of materials received
- Clerks handling either accounts payable or accounts receivable
- Billing supervisors
- Business analysts
- Financial personnel, such as accountants or financial officers.
Any person employed on public works projects who believes they have valuable information regarding false claims or fraud is encouraged to come forward. Oftentimes, speaking with legal counsel can help you determine whether you have sufficient suitable information to bring a case under the FCA.
Blowing the Whistle? We Can Help You with Your Next Step.
Your chances of succeeding are greater if your whistleblower claim is substantive, clear, and to the point. Because of this, meeting with a qualified whistleblower attorney can increase your chances of winning. The Louthian Law Firm can help you form your claim so that the government will be more inclined to intervene in your case; government intervention can sometimes increase the chances of recovering reward money. Even if the government decides not to intervene, it could still be a good idea to pursue your case without government involvement. Our strong support system can assist you through every step of the process.
For a free, confidential evaluation of your case, call the Louthian Law Firm today at 1-803-454-1200 or, if you prefer, you can fill out our online contact form.