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Constantine Cannon Celebrates a Record-Shattering Year of Whistleblower Rewards

It has been a big year for our whistleblower clients

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Successes

Members of the Constantine Cannon Whistleblower Lawyer Team have been responsible for a string of major whistleblower successes over more than a decade, and had a record-shattering year in 2020.  Our successes include the following:

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.

Visiting Nurse Service of New York – Medicare/Medicaid Home Health Care Fraud ($57 million)

Constantine Cannon represented whistleblower Edward Lacey against Visiting Nurse Service of New York – the largest not-for-profit home health care agency in the United States.  VNSNY agreed to pay $57 million to resolve allegations it failed to provide home health care visits and services to tens of thousands of New Yorkers and fraudulently billed Medicare and Medicaid.  Mr. Lacey was an executive at VNSNY for 16 years.  In his complaint, Mr. Lacey alleged that VNSNY failed to provide its patients all the critical nursing and therapy visits and services their doctors prescribed under the patient Plans of Care.  He contended that by failing to provide this care, VNSNY endangered the welfare of tens of thousands of its patients while maximizing the company's Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.  Mr. Lacey's claims concerning alleged Plan of Care failures impact the entire home health care industry.  This is the first reported False Claims Act settlement involving allegations of a home health agency failing to follow patient Plans of Care.  It also is the largest non-kickback False Claims Act settlement ever against a home health care company and the second largest settlement of any home health care fraud case.  Read more: Press Release; Whistleblower Insider.

Hyundai Oilbank Co., S-Oil Corporation, et al — Government Contract Fraud/Bid-Rigging ($363 million)

A team of our whistleblower attorneys led the representation of an anonymous whistleblower who provided extensive assistance to the U.S. government in its criminal and civil cases against several Korean oil and transportation companies, for their roles in a conspiracy to artificially inflate prices on fuel contracts for U.S. military bases in South Korea. In November 2018, SK Energy Co. Ltd., GS Caltex Corporation, and Hanjin Transportation Co. Ltd. collectively agreed to pay $154 million, to resolve the False Claims Act allegations brought by Constantine Cannon’s client, and an additional $82 million in criminal fines for their involvement in the conspiracy the whistleblower exposed. And in March 2019, the Department of Justice announced that two additional companies, Hyundai Oilbank Co. Ltd and S-Oil Corporation, would pay $75 million in criminal fines and $52 million to resolve these same False Claims Act and antitrust violations. This brings the settlement totals to $363 million and is the largest False Claims Act antitrust recovery as well as the largest False Claims Act settlement involving bid-rigging to date. Read more here.

Takata - Auto Safety ($1 billion)

Two former Takata employees, Mark Lillie and another man who chose to remain anonymous, provided extensive assistance to the U.S. government in its criminal case against Takata, the maker of defective airbags which exploded and claimed the lives of 22 people and set off a worldwide recall of nearly 100 million airbag inflators.  In January 2017, Takata pled guilty to wire fraud and agreed to pay $1 billion in criminal penalties stemming from the company’s fraudulent conduct in relation to sales of defective airbag inflators. The criminal action also resulted in three high-level Takata executives pleading guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy charges. The awards to the whistleblowers were the first ever made under the Motor Vehicle Safety Whistleblower Act, a federal whistleblower-reward program.  Read more here.

DaVita — Medicare Fraud/Kickbacks ($400 million).

Two of our whistleblower attorneys led the representation of David Barbetta, a former financial analyst for DaVita HealthCare Partners, one of the largest providers of dialysis services in the United States. Mr. Barbetta brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act against DaVita alleging the company violated the Anti-Kickback Statute by paying physicians to refer their patients to DaVita clinics for dialysis. According to the complaint, DaVita sold doctors shares of DaVita clinics at below fair market value, and purchased doctors’ interests in other clinics at above fair market value. The government joined the case, and alleged that DaVita had entered into these sweetheart deals with doctors, which gave the doctors returns of over 100%, and the doctors then steered their patients to DaVita clinics. In 2014, DaVita paid $400 million to settle the case, the largest stand-alone kickback settlement to date. See Denver Post and Modern Healthcare for more.

Northrop Grumman/TRW — Government Contracting Fraud/Defective Products ($325 million).

One of our whistleblower attorneys led the representation of Robert Ferro, who was a scientist for a TRW Inc. subcontractor, in a qui tam action under the False Claims Act against Northrop Grumman (which has since acquired TRW). Mr. Ferro alleged TRW sold classified “spy” satellites to the government with defective components that caused the satellites to fail while on orbit. According to the complaint, when Mr. Ferro brought the defect to the attention of TRW engineers, he was threatened and directed not to reveal the information to anyone in the government. Northrop ultimately settled the case for $325 million, the largest ever whistleblower settlement by a defense contractor. Mr. Ferro received a whistleblower award of $48.7 million. See NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and LA Times for more.

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.

Northrop Grumman/TRW — Government Contracting/Overcharging ($111 million).

One of our whistleblower attorneys led the representation of Richard Bagley, a former chief financial officer for TRW’s Redondo Beach unit, in a qui tam action under the False Claims Act against Northrop Grumman Corp. and TRW Inc. for overcharging the Department of Defense on various military programs. Mr. Bagley alleged that the defendants shifted costs from private contract work to government contracts, engaged in unlawful accounting methods, and manipulated their financial data to collect millions of dollars in excess payments on Defense Department programs. The government joined the case, and the defendants paid $111 million. Mr. Bagley received a whistleblower reward of $27 million. See NY Times and LA Times for more.

Education Management Corp. - For-profit college student recruitment violations ($80 million)

Education Management Corporation (EDMC), a Pittsburgh-based operator of for-profit educational institutions, agreed to pay more than $80 million to settle a False Claims Act lawsuit brought by a whistleblower represented by attorneys at Constantine Cannon.   The settlement was the largest settlement to date in an FCA suit involving the U.S. Department of Education.  The whistleblowers, Lynntoya Washington and Michael T. Mahoney, provided extensive evidence that EDMC had for years paid its recruiters incentive compensation based upon how many students they enrolled, regardless of whether the students were suitable candidates, while steadily concealing its illegal practices with repeated false statements to state and federal authorities. Read more here and from the DOJ.

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.
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