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Prisoner turned whistleblower speaks out after uncovering massive stimulus fraud

Posted  July 10, 2020

After discovering that various Utah government entities had misappropriated millions in federal grant dollars following the 2008 economic bailout, Reginald Williams filed a qui tam lawsuit in early 2015 to report the fraud to the United States. Williams’s claims initiated a federal investigation and lawsuit accusing criminal justice agencies in Utah of grant fraud. When the government intervened and the case became public earlier this year, Williams himself made headlines for his unlikely status as a prisoner turned whistleblower. Spotlighting his character, Williams maintains, misses the mark.

Williams was working in a Utah state prison print shop when he first learned that the Utah Department of Corrections was illegitimately using grant money to pay its guards. The scheme he uncovered implicated several Utah agencies that allegedly accepted grants awarded for hiring new employees during the recession and instead used the funds for unapproved purposes. The federal government awarded the grants from a stimulus program in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and economic recession. The grant program prohibits such “supplanting” of state budgets with federal funds. According to the government’s lawsuit, to obtain and continue to receive the grants, defendants falsely represented that they had lost jobs or would lose jobs to budget cuts.

In a recent statement, Williams said the emphasis on his identity is misplaced, and instead argued “the focus must remain on the officials who betrayed the public trust.” This rings particularly true now, as the government is dispensing massive sums in stimulus funding to offset the economic implications of the coronavirus pandemic. “Once again, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession, Utah has received billions in federal grant money. Questions have already been raised about the lack of transparency in relation to purchasing contracts,” Williams noted.

As the government spends unprecedented amounts to bolster the economy amidst the pandemic, unscrupulous actors already have and undoubtedly will continue to find ways to game the system. Such fraud wastes taxpayer dollars and prevents struggling businesses from receiving the support they need. The government will need to rely on whistleblowers like Williams to expose similar schemes. It is a textbook defense tactic to shift attention from the fraudster’s own bad acts and the resulting harm and instead smear the whistleblower’s character. Now, more than ever, we should not fall for it.

Whistleblowers who report fraud in applying for or spending COVID-19 relief funds may be eligible for a reward under the False Claims Act or other reward programs.

If you would like more information or would like to speak to a member of Constantine Cannon’s whistleblower lawyer team, please click here.

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Tagged in: FCA Federal, Grant and Research Fraud, Importance of Whistleblowers, Whistleblower Case,