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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.  We had a record-shattering year in 2021, and have a track record of success in achieving the maximum possible awards for our clients.  Our successes include the following:

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.

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.

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.

Unitrans International Inc., Anham FZCO, et al. — Government Contract Fraud ($45 million)

Our attorneys represented Rory Maxwell, John Bush, and Supreme Foodservice GmbH in a qui tam action under the False Claims Act against Unitrans International Inc., a privately held Virginia defense contracting company, and Anham FZCO, an associated Dubai Free Zone company, for making false certifications of compliance with the U.S. sanctions regime against Iran to induce the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency and the U.S. Army to award Anham wartime contracts to provide food and transportation to U.S. troops.  Our whistleblower clients also alleged Anham knowingly and falsely represented construction progress on its Bagram warehouse in related bid proposals to the government.  In December 2019, Unitrans agreed to pay $45 million to resolve criminal and civil allegations related to this alleged misconduct, which includes $27 million to resolve our whistleblower clients’ False Claims Act allegations.  Read more about the case at the Department of Justice website here and in The Washington Post here.

ATK — Government Contracting Fraud/Defective Product ($37 million).

One of our whistleblower attorneys led the representation of Kendall Dye, an engineer with what was formerly ATK Thiokol and is now ATK Launch Systems, who brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act against ATK for selling defective flares to the United States military. According to the complaint, company testing revealed the flares could accidentally ignite if dropped from a height of as little as 11 inches. The flares burn at thousands of degrees, and are capable of burning through the hull of a ship, creating a significant safety risk. The government joined Mr. Dye’s case, and ATK ultimately settled for $37 million, with Mr. Dye receiving a whistleblower reward of $9 million. See NY Times for more.

Freedom Health, Optimum Healthcare - Medicare Risk Adjustment ($32.5 million)

Two of our whistleblower lawyers led the representation of the late Dr. Darren Sewell, M.D., the former chief medical officer and vice president of special projects for two large health insurers and operators of Medicare managed healthcare insurance plans based in Tampa, Florida. Dr. Sewell brought a qui tam case under the False Claims Act against Freedom, Optimum and Mr. Pagidipati alleging that they improperly gamed a feature of the Medicare Advantage program known as risk adjustment, or risk scoring, by fraudulently inflating their members’ risk scores and the corresponding risk adjustment payments they received from CMS, and that they fraudulently induced CMS to allow them to expand their health insurance offerings into new counties in Florida and the Carolinas by falsely representing that they had a sufficient network of doctors, clinics and hospitals available to serve their enrollees in the expanded service areas when they had no such networks in place. The Government joined the case and in 2017, defendants agreed to pay $32.5 million to settle the matter. The Government and the whistleblower are in the process of negotiating the amount of the relator’s share of the Government’s $32.5 million recovery that Dr. Sewell’s estate will receive. See NPR, DOJ 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.

ITG – Securities violations (30% SEC whistleblower award)

Constantine Cannon’s team secured another multi-million-dollar SEC whistleblower award for an anonymous whistleblower whose original information and assistance led to an enforcement action against brokerage firm ITG.  The SEC has repeatedly fined ITG in recent years, including for violations related to the firm’s dark pool, POSIT.  A dark pool is an alternate trading system that is supposed to allow investors to place buy and sell orders without alerting predatory traders who can manipulate prices.  ITG told its customers that they could trade in POSIT anonymously and confidentially, but the SEC twice concluded this was false.  The SEC awarded our client 30 percent of the recovery, the maximum amount allowed under the SEC Whistleblower Program.  For more information, see Constantine Cannon Client Receives Maximum Award for Blowing the Whistle on ITG

Northrop Grumman — Government Contracting Fraud/Failure to Test ($12.5 million).

One of our whistleblower attorneys led the representation of Allen Davis, a former quality assurance manager at Northrop’s Navigation Systems Division facility in Salt Lake City, who brought a qui tam action under the False Claims Act, alleging the defense contractor failed to test properly certain commercial parts it supplied for navigation systems in warplanes, submarines and space equipment. Northrop ultimately settled the case for $12.5 million with Mr. Davis receiving a portion of that amount as a whistleblower award. See Reuters for more.

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