By Reuben Guttman. Mr. Guttman, a partner at the law firm of Grant & Eisenhofer, heads the firm's whistleblower practice and is founder of the website Whistleblowerlaws, which helps individuals using the False Claims Act to seek compliance with environmental, affirmative action, wage and hour, and "Buy American" requirements. It was cited as an authority by the Chamber of Commerce in its brief in Schindler Elevator Corp. v. U.S. ex rel. Kirk, which is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
As the fate of a government shutdown last week was teetering over budget cuts of between $20-$40 billion, I could not help remind myself that only last year the Deputy Attorney General of the United States estimated that Medicare-Medicaid fraud alone costs the government up to $60 billion.
Of course, this figure does not even account for precious healthcare dollars spent to treat injuries caused by misbranded drugs and defective medical devices. Taking into account over-billing by defense contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, the for profit colleges whose degrees are not worth the tuition financed with government grants, the construction contracts designed to create good paying jobs but whose workers are not being paid prevailing wages, or the large scale procurements made under the Buy American Act where the goods are actually manufactured abroad, and the government has either wasted a massive amount of money or the money has been spent in ways that will not bring anticipated returns. Worse yet, as in the case of misbranded drugs, taxpayers may also face physical injury or illness.
Unfortunately, instead of jail time or debarment, fraudsters are often rewarded with more government business. Even when they pay fines, the fines are so disproportionally small that they amount to a fee for the license to break the law. Consider the government’s $2.3 billion dollar settlement with Pfizer in 2009, which encompassed a pattern of alleged wrongdoing including misbranding of a drug for pediatric use. The combined civil and criminal penalty seemed large but actually paled in comparison to the $171 billion that the drug giant pulled in from sales of the pharmaceuticals encompassed by the complaint during the damage period.