Kentucky-based Lusk Mechanical Contractors and Commonwealth Technologies, and their owners, Harry Lusk and Wendell Goodman, have agreed to pay $6.25 million to resolve allegations that they submitted false statements to the Small Business Administration and false claims to the Army, the Justice Department announced today.
Congress established the Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) program in 1997 to help inner cities and rural counties that have low household income and high unemployment, and whose communities have suffered from a lack of investment. Under the HUBZone program, small businesses that maintain their principal office in a designated HUBZone, and meet certain other requirements, can apply to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for certification as a HUBZone company. HUBZone companies can then use this certification to their advantage when bidding on government contracts.
Today’s settlement resolves allegations that Lusk Mechanical, Commonwealth Technology and their owners made, or caused to be made, false statements to the SBA to obtain certification as a HUBZone company, and then used this certification to wrongfully obtain Army contracts to build a courthouse in Fort Knox, Ky., and to complete maintenance and other repairs to Army facilities in Fort Knox. Specifically, the United States alleged that in February 2005, Commonwealth submitted an application to the SBA representing that it was a small business with its principal place of business in a designated HUBZone. In fact, Commonwealth allegedly operated out of Lusk Mechanical’s headquarters, which was not located in a HUBZone area. Commonwealth’s business office was identified on the application as 212 East Caroline Street, Irvington, Ky. The United States alleged that this location was nothing more than a vacant office space with no employees, and that Commonwealth’s application did not disclose that Wendell Goodman and Harry Lusk were, in fact, affiliated with Lusk Mechanical. At the time, Harry Lusk and his wife were the sole owners of Lusk Mechanical and Wendell Goodman was the chief executive officer of Lusk Mechanical. According to the United States’ allegations, neither Lusk nor Goodman disclosed in the application to the SBA that Commonwealth did not operate as an independent company, but instead shared facilities, equipment, personnel, insurance and bonding with Lusk Mechanical, nor did they inform the SBA about the financial relationship between Commonwealth and Lusk Mechanical. The United States alleged that, using the falsely obtained HUBZone certification, the companies obtained contracts from the Army that had been restricted to qualified HUBZone companies, in violation of the False Claims Act and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA).
Under the terms of the settlement, Commonwealth, Lusk Mechanical, Goodman, and Lusk have agreed to pay $3,741,739.96, and to forfeit $2,506,260.24 seized by federal agents from their bank accounts under a civil forfeiture action.
“As our economy continues to improve, the HUBZone program provides a critical lifeline to small businesses that voluntarily choose to locate in areas that often have difficulty attracting business,” said Stuart F. Delery, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Companies that set up sham offices not only break the law, but deprive the HUBZone communities and legitimate HUBZone businesses of the benefits of the HUBZone program.”
“They abused a program meant to assist small businesses located in financially disadvantaged communities,” stated David J. Hale, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Kentucky. “Today’s multimillion dollar settlement is the result of a successfully coordinated effort among law enforcement agencies and the Department of Justice, working together to hold these business owners accountable.”
“The HUBZone Program offers significant benefits to eligible small businesses and is an important tool for unlocking the potential of historically underutilized business zones,” said Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson of the Small Business Administration. “Preferences for federal contract awards must not be given to persons who lie in order to claim eligibility. I applaud the dedication and perseverance of our law enforcement partners as justice is served here today on behalf of the American taxpayer”
“SBA’s contracting programs, including the HUBZone program, provide small businesses with the opportunity to grow and create jobs,” stated SBA’s General Counsel Sara Lipscomb. “But, SBA has no tolerance for waste, fraud or abuse in any government contracting program and is committed to ensuring the benefits of these programs flow to the intended recipients. SBA works closely with our federal partners to prevent bad actors from participating in contracting programs and taking action and holding those accountable when they lie to or mislead the government.”
“This investigation is the result of a highly successful joint effort by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) and one of our key law enforcement partners — the SBA’s Office of Inspector General, in collaboration with the Department of Justice. Fraud in military contracting undermines the confidence of the American public who demand a military procurement system that spends their tax dollars wisely and responsibly. This investigation should serve as a warning for those who submit false claims for U.S. military and public funds that DCIS will aggressively investigate these matters,” said Bret Flinn, Resident Agent in Charge of the DCIS Dayton Resident Agency.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Delery thanked the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky, the Office of General Counsel and the Office of the Inspector General for the Small Business Administration, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and the Justice Department’s Commercial Litigation Branch for the collaboration that resulted in today’s settlement. The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.