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Wireless Carriers – Government Contracting Fraud ($138.7 million)

Constantine Cannon represented whistleblower OnTheGo Wireless, LLC, in state False Claims Act litigation against the four largest U.S. wireless carriers, AT&T Mobility, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile, that resulted in the recovery of $138.7 million for the states of California, Nevada, and other jurisdictions, including political subdivisions in those states.  The whistleblower, an industry expert but not an insider at any of the carriers, alleged that the carriers knowingly failed to comply with contractual promises to deliver service “at the lowest cost available,” and provide rate plan “optimization” reports each quarter.  The contracts in questions were cooperative purchasing contracts that allowed different government entities to purchase under the terms and conditions of a master contract negotiated by a lead government agency.  For the carriers, becoming providers under the cooperative purchasing agreements gave them access to a multi-billion dollar market and, eager to have that access, the carriers agreed to provide rate plan optimization, but then, according to the whistleblower, failed to provide it.  The contracts were long-standing and the terms highly specialized.  And, many government agencies agreed to purchase under the contracts based solely on the fact they were put together by the Western States Contracting Alliance (“WSCA”).  This created an opportunity, OnTheGo alleged, that the carriers knowingly exploited to breach their promise to deliver low cost service and rate plan optimization, resulting in hundreds of millions of overcharges to government entities.  Over 30 California political subdivisions intervened in the California action and were also represented by Constantine Cannon; the State of Nevada intervened in the Nevada action. Plaintiffs ultimately recovered $138.7 million, and the whistleblower received a relator share of nearly 40%.  See Press Release and Whistleblower Insider for more.

Sharp HealthCare — Medicare Fraud/Kickbacks (undisclosed settlement amount)

Three of our whistleblower attorneys represented a whistleblower in a qui tam action under the False Claims Act against Sharp HealthCare, a regional hospital system in San Diego.  Our client alleged that the Sharp Healthcare Center for Research, Sharp’s clinical-trial research arm, fraudulently billed government payers in violation of “secondary payer” rules that prohibit billing the government when other payers will pay for a patient’s care. Our whistleblower client also alleged that Sharp cultivated an illegal kickback scheme to entice prospective trial sponsors to host clinical trials at Sharp by regularly undervaluing Sharp’s costs involved in managing clinical trials.  By offering below-market value incentives and billing government and commercial insurers for injuries, the lawsuit alleged that Sharp sought to increase its attractiveness to trial sponsors. Sharp’s alleged purpose was to burnish the organization’s reputation and offer a lucrative stream of income for Sharp-affiliated physicians involved in clinical trials. Sharp settled the whistleblower’s case for an undisclosed amount.  Read more here.

Cisco Systems, Inc. – Government Contract Fraud/Non-Conforming Product ($8.6 million)

Constantine Cannon represented whistleblower James Glenn against Cisco in the first cybersecurity whistleblower case ever successfully resolved under the False Claims Act. Cisco Systems, Inc. agreed to an $8.6 million settlement to resolve allegations it knowingly sold vulnerable video surveillance software to federal, state and local government agencies, exposing government systems to the risk of unauthorized access and the manipulation of vital information. The whistleblower, who worked in Europe for a Cisco partner, had reported critical security vulnerabilities in the software to Cisco, but Cisco had continued to sell the technology to government entities, including the District of Columbia and 15 states, despite the fact that the software failed to comply with FAR procurement standards that require basic cybersecurity controls, including those set forth by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.  Read more: Press Release; Whistleblower Insider

Office Depot — Government Contracting Fraud/Best Pricing ($68.5 million).

One of our whistleblower attorneys led the representation of David Sherwin, a former business manager at Office Depot. Mr. Sherwin brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act against Office Depot alleging the company overcharged over one thousand California public agencies, including schools, for office supplies. According to the complaint, Office Depot promised its public agency customers Office Depot’s “best” pricing when in fact it charged them millions of dollars more than they would have paid under other, more favorable Office Depot contracts. In addition to representing Mr. Sherwin, one of our attorneys also represented numerous public agencies that joined the case. Office Depot ultimately settled the case for $68.5 million, and Mr. Sherwin’s estate received a whistleblower award of $23 million. See LA Daily News for more.

JM Eagle — Government Contracting Fraud/Noncompliance with Industry Standards ($22.5 million).

Two of our whistleblower attorneys led the representation of whistleblower John Hendrix, a former engineer at JM Eagle, as well as dozens of public agencies, in a two-month jury trial in Los Angeles against JM Eagle, the largest PVC pipe maker in the world. The jury returned a 50-page verdict finding that, over a ten-year period, JM Eagle had falsely represented its compliance with industry standards related to long term strength and durability of its PVC pipe. The pipe is buried deep underground in hundreds of municipalities around the nation. The damages phase of the case has not yet been held. However, a co-defendant in the case, Formosa Plastics, paid $22.5 million to settle its own potential liability, and Mr. Hendrix received a whistleblower reward from that settlement. See NY Times and Corporate Crime Reporter for more.

Tyco — Government Contracting Fraud/Noncompliance with Industry Standards ($60 million).

One of our whistleblower attorneys led the representation of Nora Armenta and dozens of California municipalities in a qui tam action under the False Claims Act against Tyco International, Mueller Co., and the James Jones Company, alleging they sold waterworks parts to municipal water systems that were made with 40% more lead than allowed by industry standards. According to her complaint, Ms. Armenta repeatedly warned her superiors that the parts were for drinking water, but was ignored. The defendants settled the case, but only after 13 years of litigation, including three successful appeals that reversed unfavorable trial rulings. The defrauded municipalities received $60 million, and Ms. Armenta received a whistleblower reward of $15 million.

LA Dep’t. of Water & Power — Government Contract Fraud/Utility Overcharges ($224 million).

Four of our whistleblower attorneys led the representation of whistleblower Sam Barakat, as well as the County of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and other government agencies in a whistleblower action against the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The plaintiffs alleged that the DWP had overcharged these schools and other public agencies for electric power over a ten-year period of time. The case involved a ground-breaking legal theory that had never been tested in court. It also involved dissecting elaborate cost accounting to demonstrate government customers had been overcharged relative to the true cost of service. Following a two-month trial, a verdict was returned against the DWP for $224 million. See LA Times, UT San Diego, and National Law Journal for more.

Hanson Aggregates — Government Underpayments on Public Resource Lease ($48 million).

Two of our whistleblower attorneys led the representation of a whistleblower in a qui tam action filed under the California False Claims Act alleging underpayments (or “reverse false claims”) under a public resource lease. Specifically, the three defendants, which were engaged in dredging and selling sand and gravel from public lands, were alleged to have paid the State of California less than what was owed by under-reporting the quantity of the sand and gravel removed, as well as its value. Dubbed the “sand pirates” by the media, the defendants allegedly “sold” the sand to affiliated companies they set up, and used artificially deflated prices from those purported sales, instead of the prices paid in real third party transactions when calculating and reporting royalties due the State. Critical issues concerning the proper interpretation of the related leases and related accounting issues were resolved in favor of the government following a seven week trial, in which one of our whistleblower lawyers served as lead trial counsel. The case settled before the next trial phase. California recovered $48 million in combined settlement payments and price adjustments. The whistelblower, a tugboat captain, received a whistleblower award of 30% of the government’s recovery. It was the second-largest recovery for a whistleblower under California state law. See California AG Press Release and Oakland Tribune for more.

NEC — Government Contracting/Bribes and Kickbacks ($5 million).

One of our whistleblower attorneys was hired by the San Francisco Unified School District to pursue a False Claims Act case against NEC Business Network Solutions, a large supplier of computer systems under the government’s “E-Rate” program. E-Rate provided government subsidies for the purchase of computer equipment for school classrooms, seeking to bridge the “digital divide.” According to the complaint, NEC paid bribes and kickbacks to school officials, causing them to order excess equipment purchased with federal funds. One of the recipients of the illegal bribes was convicted and sentenced to 21 months in prison. Using a novel theory, the San Francisco school district “blew the whistle” on the company, and received an award of $5 million. See NY Times for more.

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