The Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Whistleblower Center has called upon Attorney General William Barr to establish a special task force to combat fraud in federal spending targeted to fight the Coronavirus pandemic.
According to the March 16, 2020 letter to Attorney General Barr: “The Department of Justice must take prompt and effective action to prevent fraud in any program designed to combat the Coronavirus.”
The letter explained that the qui tam whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act had held fraudsters accountable for “stealing from disaster sites, selling defective body armor to police, and providing deficient healthcare to Medicaidpatients.” Similar prosecutions may be needed to protect the public’s health and safety during the Coronavirus crisis.
The whistleblower advocates urged the Attorney General to create a task force with the following mandate:
Ensure a prompt and aggressive federal response to any allegations of fraud related to the Coronavirus, including fraud that impacts patient care;
Prioritize the investigation of all Coronavirus cases;
Prompt prosecution of False Claims Act cases that have merit, holding fraudsters accountable to the fullest extent of the law (both civilly and criminally).
“By establishing a special task force, and aggressively pursuing investigations of the fraud cases, the Department of Justice can send a message to all persons involved in fighting the Coronavirus that they must act honestly and ethically in their administration of these critical programs,” the letter emphasizes. The whistleblower advocates stress the proven track record of False Claims Act litigation as a deterrent to would-be fraudsters. “The key during this crisis is to deter anyone from engaging in misconduct,” the letter explains.
“Any fraud in programs dedicated to protecting the American people from the Coronavirus pandemic is despicable and must be fully investigated and prosecuted,” said Stephen M. Kohn, a Founding Partner in the whistleblower law firm of Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto. Kohn, who also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Whistleblower Center, calls on the Department of Justice to send a clear message to every person or company that obtains federal funding to combat the Coronavirus crisis, including all Medicaid or Medicare recipients. “If you commit fraud in these programs, you will be held accountable,” he said.
“The False Claim Act’s qui tam whistleblower provision has been the most successful federal law in combating fraud and protecting the health and safety of the American people in federally funded medical programs. The Justice Department must establish a special task force to swiftly investigated and prosecuted qui tam cases,” Kohn added.
Similar task forces or special initiatives have been established in the past by the Department of Justice. For example, on March 3, 2020, the Justice Department announced a National Nursing Home Initiative, targeting abuses at nursing homes and advocating using the False Claims Act to police these abuses.
“There is a group of people who will profit from disasters illegally, and they’re despicable, but they’re out there,” Kohn told Bloomberg Law.
Official White House photo by Tia Dufour