Bradford Geyer explains we need to keep an eye on #OIG audits

Bradford Geyer has seen an enforcement agency storm forming around government grants and government procurement and he argues that contractors and grantees would be well served to keep an eye on OIG audit reports that often telegraph enforcement activity.  He provides a quick primer regarding a Department of State Office of Inspector General Audit Report regarding Armored Vehicles below:

For reasons I hope to explain more fully in a future column,  there could be a perfect storm forming for reinvigorated grant fraud and procurement fraud enforcement (GFPFE) in a Trump Adminisitration. Assuming that is the case, and we wont know for sure for at least another six months, it becomes very important to keep an eye on OIG audits like this one (DOS-OIG Armored Car Audit Report) because audit reports can signal the deployment of investigative resources.  Audits can also become a platform for an expanded enforcement initiative or provide a low cost basis for new investigative activity even by other agencies.  Armored vehicles is a product market where the government has found procurement problems for close to 15 years and government enforcement agencies have had success at bringing cases in these areas.  This is a toxic mix for contractors who should consider doing internal investigations and brushing up on their compliance programs.  If they find a problem they should carefully consider a voluntary disclsoure to the appropriate agency(ies).

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Founder of Non-Profit Charged with Bribing Former Prince George’s County Official in Exchange for Grant Funds

A Maryland man has been charged with bribery and making false statements as part of an alleged scheme to obtain government grants for a charitable organization of which he was the founder. The  case was brought via a criminal complaint filed by the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland. It alleges that the defendant made three annual payments of $5000 each to a member of the Prince George’s County Council to secure annual grants of $25,000 for the Salvadoran Business Caucus, which claimed to award scholarships to high school and college students.
The agent affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint describes conversations  that allegedly occurred between the council member and  the defendant in sufficient detail as to indicate that tape recordings of the conversations exist.
Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Maryland

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Greenbelt, Maryland – A criminal complaint has been filed charging

, of Rockville, Maryland, late yesterday with bribery and making false statements in connection with a scheme to engage in bribery in order to influence a public official in the performance of his official duties in Prince George’s County. Ayala’s initial appearance is scheduled today at 1:45 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Sullivan in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The criminal complaint was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Gordon B. Johnson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office; and Chief Hank Stawinski of the Prince George’s County Police Department.

According to affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Ayala was an accountant and founder of Ayala and Associates Public Accountants in Washington, D.C. Ayala was also the founder of the Salvadoran Business Caucus, a non-profit organization also known as the Caucus Salvadoreno Empresarial, Inc. (CSE). CSE’s website stated that CSE awarded scholarships to high school and college students.

The affidavit alleges that Ayala paid bribes to former Prince George’s County Council Member Will Campos in exchange for grant funding. Specifically, the affidavit alleges that Ayala paid Campos $5,000 for each of County fiscal years 2012 through 2015, in exchange for $25,000 in grants to CSE in each of those years. For example, on August 13, 2014, Campos met with Ayala for lunch in Washington, D.C. During the meeting, Ayala asked Campos what would happen after Campos left his position on the County Council and assumed his position within the Maryland General Assembly. According to the affidavit, Ayala advised, “The arrangement is still on,” and Campos asked if Ayala had anything for Campos. Ayala asked Campos to give him two weeks, and “I [Ayala] call you and I’ll say let’s, let’s have a drink and you know what it’s for.” Campos asked for $5,000, “like last time,” and Ayala agreed.

According to the affidavit, on September 23, 2014, Ayala had dinner with Campos at a restaurant in Silver Spring, Maryland, and discussed the grant money. Specifically, Campos advised that he would push for Ayala to still receive grant money after Campos left office. At the conclusion of the meal, Ayala walked Campos out of the restaurant and allegedly handed Campos an envelope bearing a label for CSE and containing a cashier’s check for half the agreed upon amount. The affidavit alleges that Ayala explained, “I was unable to obtain cash. It’s better like this. This comes from – from a third party who knows me, so it’s better.” Campos joked that Ayala was paying “half now, half later,” and Ayala responded, “I would say that.”

According to the affidavit, on January 8, 2015, Ayala met with Campos at Ayala’s office in Washington, D.C. Ayala reached into his desk and retrieved an envelope. Ayala handed the envelope to Campos, who asked if it was “the rest that we talked about? 2,500?” and Ayala responded, “Yeah.” The affidavit alleges that inside the envelope, Ayala had placed $2,500 in cash.

On January 5, 2017, Ayala was interviewed by federal law enforcement agents. The affidavit alleges that Ayala denied providing anything of value to Campos in exchange for receiving Prince George’s County grant money for CSE. Thereafter, agents showed Ayala still photographs from videos taken while Ayala was making bribe payments to Campos on September 23, 2014 and January 8, 2015.

If convicted, Ayala faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison for bribery, and a maximum of five years in prison for false statements. An individual charged by criminal complaint is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended the FBI, IRS-CI, and Prince Georges County Police Department for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas P. Windom, Mara Zusman Greenberg, and James A. Crowell IV, who are prosecuting the case.

Man Ordered To Pay More than $2.9 Million in Disgorgement and a Civil Monetary Penalty for Engaging in Precious Metals Transactions

 

Court Earlier Entered a Default Judgment Order against His Company, Oakmont Financial, Inc.

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced that Judge William P. Dimitrouleas of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida entered an Order of Final Judgment by Default (Order) against Defendant Joseph Charles DiCrisci of Henderson, Nevada, an owner and principal of Oakmont Financial Inc. (Oakmont), for engaging in in illegal, off-exchange precious metals transactions (see CFTC Complaint and Press Release 7317-16, February 3, 2016). The Court previously, on November 8, 2016, entered a Default Judgment Order against Oakmont (Oakmont Order).

The Court’s Order requires DiCrisci to pay $735,329 in disgorgement and a $2,205,987 civil monetary penalty. The Order also imposes permanent trading and registration bans against DiCrisci and prohibits him from engaging in illegal, off-exchange precious metals transactions, as charged. Similar prohibitions were entered against Oakmont in the Oakmont Order.

The Court’s Order stems from a CFTC Complaint filed on January 12, 2016 that charged DiCrisci and Oakmont with engaging in illegal, off-exchange precious metals transactions on a leveraged, margined or financed basis. The Complaint also charged Oakmont with acting as a Futures Commission Merchant (FCM), without being registered as such. The Complaint charged, and the Order finds, that DiCrisci was Oakmont’s controlling person who knowingly induced the underlying violation of the Commodity Exchange Act, or failed to act in good faith, and therefore was liable for Oakmont’s violations of the Act.

In the Order, the Court further finds that, from at least July 16, 2011 and continuing through at least July 27, 2012, Oakmont, by and through its employees, solicited retail customers by telephone to engage in financed precious metals transactions, which constitute illegal off-exchange retail commodity transactions and acted as an FCM without being so registered.

The Order also finds that precious metals were never delivered to any customers with respect to the leveraged metals transactions made on behalf of Oakmont’s customers. Under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, leveraged, margined or financed transactions, such as those conducted by Oakmont, are illegal off-exchange transactions unless they result in actual delivery within 28 days.

The CFTC cautions that Orders requiring repayment of funds to victims may not result in the recovery of any money lost because the wrongdoers may not have sufficient funds or assets.  The CFTC will continue to fight vigorously for the protection of customers and to ensure the wrongdoers are held accountable.

CFTC Division of Enforcement staff members responsible for this action are Kara Mucha, Erica Bodin, Kassra Goudarzi, James A. Garcia, Michael Solinsky, Charles Marvine, and Rick Glaser.

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Latest GrantFraud.Com post involves a $200 million credit card fraud scheme

Bradford L. Geyer is reading enforcement agency tea leaves and he is seeing signs of enhanced enforcement involving grant fraud and procurement fraud at grantfraud.com.  His latest note regarding an extensive credit card fraud scheme can be found here.

GrantFraud.Com: Former DOD Employee Sentenced for GSA Advantage thefts

As part of our effort to track white collar enforcement trends with the new Administration we will be tracking developments in grant fraud enforcement and procurement fraud enforcement over at GrantFraud.Com that is under construction and open.  You may click the title below to see a new grant fraud case filing involving GSA Advantage theft.  As is often the case between election and inauguration, career employees under “acting” top managers start to react to perceptions about what the new Administration’s enforcemenet priorities will be.  For a variety of reasons that Brad Geyer will be blogging about, we are projecting emboldened grant fraud and procurement fraud enforcement moving forward

Former DOD Employee Sentenced for GSA Advantage thefts

GrantFraud.Com: Bid-Rigging Involving State of California Contracts

As part of our effort to track white collar enforcement trends with the new Administration we will be tracking developments in grant fraud enforcement and procurement fraud enforcement over at GrantFraud.Com that is under construction and open.  You may click the title below to see a new grant fraud case filing where the State of California was the victim.  For a variety of reasons that Brad Geyer will be blogging about, we are projecting emboldened grant fraud and procurement fraud enforcement moving forward.

San Francisco, New York, and Granite Bay Residents Charged in Bid-Rigging Conspiracy Involving Government Contracts

FTC Charges Qualcomm With Monopolizing Key Semiconductor Device Used in Cell Phones

 

Company’s sales and licensing practices hamper Qualcomm’s competitors and threaten innovation in mobile communications, according to FTC

The Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint in federal district court charging Qualcomm Inc. with using anticompetitive tactics to maintain its monopoly in the supply of a key semiconductor device used in cell phones and other consumer products.

Qualcomm is the world’s dominant supplier of baseband processors – devices that manage cellular communications in mobile products. The FTC alleges that Qualcomm has used its dominant position as a supplier of certain baseband processors to impose onerous and anticompetitive supply and licensing terms on cell phone manufacturers and to weaken competitors.

Qualcomm also holds patents that it has declared essential to industry standards that enable cellular connectivity. These standards were adopted by standard-setting organizations for the telecommunications industry, which include Qualcomm and many of its competitors. In exchange for having their patented technologies included in the standards, participants typically commit to license their patents on what are known as fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory, or “FRAND,” terms.

When a patent holder that has made a FRAND commitment negotiates a license, ordinarily it is constrained by the fact that if the parties are unable to reach agreement, the patent holder may have to establish reasonable royalties in court.

According to the complaint, by threatening to disrupt cell phone manufacturers’ supply of baseband processors, Qualcomm obtains elevated royalties and other license terms for its standard-essential patents that manufacturers would otherwise reject. These royalties amount to a tax on the manufacturers’ use of baseband processors manufactured by Qualcomm’s competitors, a tax that excludes these competitors and harms competition. Increased costs imposed by this tax are passed on to consumers, the complaint alleges.

By excluding competitors, Qualcomm impedes innovation that would offer significant consumer benefits, including those that foster the increased interconnectivity of consumer products, vehicles, buildings, and other items commonly referred to as the Internet of Things.

The FTC has charged Qualcomm with violating the FTC Act. The complaint alleges that Qualcomm:

  • Maintains a “no license, no chips” policy under which it will supply its baseband processors only on the condition that cell phone manufacturers agree to Qualcomm’s preferred license terms. The FTC alleges that this tactic forces cell phone manufacturers to pay elevated royalties to Qualcomm on products that use a competitor’s baseband processors. According to the Commission’s complaint, this is an anticompetitive tax on the use of rivals’ processors. “No license, no chips” is a condition that other suppliers of semiconductor devices do not impose. The risk of losing access to Qualcomm baseband processors is too great for a cell phone manufacturer to bear because it would preclude the manufacturer from selling phones for use on important cellular networks.
  • Refuses to license standard-essential patents to competitors. Despite its commitment to license standard-essential patents on FRAND terms, Qualcomm has consistently refused to license those patents to competing suppliers of baseband processors.
  • Extracted exclusivity from Apple in exchange for reduced patent royalties. Qualcomm precluded Apple from sourcing baseband processors from Qualcomm’s competitors from 2011 to 2016. Qualcomm recognized that any competitor that won Apple’s business would become stronger, and used exclusivity to prevent Apple from working with and improving the effectiveness of Qualcomm’s competitors.

The FTC is seeking a court order to undo and prevent Qualcomm’s unfair methods of competition in violation of the FTC Act. The FTC has asked the court to order Qualcomm to cease its anticompetitive conduct and take actions to restore competitive conditions.

The Commission vote to file the complaint was 2-1. Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen dissented and issued a statement. Both a public and sealed version of the complaint were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on January 17, 2017.

 

GrantFraud.Com: Former DHS Employee Inprisoned for Stealing USDA Funds

As part of our effort to track white collar enforcement trends with the new Administration we will be tracking developments in grant fraud enforcement and procurement fraud enforcement over at GrantFraud.Com that is under construction and open.  You may click the title below to see a new USDA grant fraud case filing.  For a variety of reasons that Brad Geyer will be blogging about, we are projecting emboldened grant fraud and procurement fraud enforcement moving forward

Former DHS Employee Sentenced to Prison in Scheme to Steal USDA Funds Intended to Feed Hungry Children & Little Rock Man Pleads Guilty in Same Scheme

 

 

 

M&T Bank Agrees to Pay $64 Million for FCA liability

M&T Bank Corp. (M&T Bank) has agreed to pay the United States $64 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by knowingly originating and underwriting mortgage loans insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that did not meet applicable requirements, the Justice Department announced today.  M&T Bank is headquartered in Buffalo, New York.

“Mortgage lenders that fail to follow FHA program rules put taxpayer funds at risk and increase the chances of borrowers losing their homes,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “We will continue to hold lenders accountable for knowingly submitting ineligible loans for FHA insurance.”

“M&T Bank bypassed its responsibility to originate and underwrite mortgages in accordance with the standards required by the FHA,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy Jr. for the Western District of New York.  “This case demonstrates that when a financial institution takes such a detour, we will work to ensure that it does not bypass the consequences of that conduct.”

During the time period covered by the settlement, M&T Bank participated as a direct endorsement lender (DEL) in the FHA insurance program.  A DEL has the authority to originate, underwrite and endorse mortgages for FHA insurance.  If a DEL approves a mortgage loan for FHA insurance and the loan later defaults, the holder of the loan may submit an insurance claim to HUD, FHA’s parent agency, for the losses resulting from the defaulted loan.  Under the DEL program, the FHA does not review a loan for compliance with FHA requirements before it is endorsed for FHA insurance.  DELs are therefore required to follow program rules designed to ensure that they are properly underwriting and certifying mortgages for FHA insurance, to maintain a quality control program that can prevent and correct deficiencies in their underwriting practices, and to self-report any deficient loans identified by their quality control program.

The settlement announced today resolves allegations that M&T Bank failed to comply with certain FHA origination, underwriting and quality control requirements.  As part of the settlement, M&T Bank admitted to the following facts: Between Jan. 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2011, it certified for FHA insurance mortgage loans that did not meet HUD underwriting requirements and did not adhere to FHA’s quality control requirements.  Prior to 2010, M&T Bank failed to review all Early Payment Default (EPD) loans, which are loans that become 60 days past due within the first six months of repayment.  Between 2006 and 2011, M&T also failed to review an adequate sample of FHA loans, as required by HUD.

Additionally, M&T created a quality control process that allowed it to produce preliminary major error rates that were significantly lower (sometimes below one percent) than what the rate would have been if M&T had calculated its preliminary major error rate by dividing the number of loans with preliminary major errors by the number of loans reviewed to determine what percent of loans contained a preliminary major error.

M&T Bank also failed to adhere to HUD’s self-reporting requirements.  While M&T Bank identified numerous FHA insured loans with “major errors” between 2006 and 2011, M&T Bank did not report a single loan to HUD until 2008, and thereafter self-reported only seven loans to HUD.  As a result of M&T’s conduct and omissions, HUD insured hundreds of loans approved by M&T that were not eligible for FHA mortgage insurance under the Direct Endorsement program and that HUD would not otherwise have insured.  HUD subsequently incurred substantial losses when it paid insurance claims on those loans.

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“This recovery on behalf of the Federal Housing Administration should serve as a reminder of the potential consequences of not following HUD program rules and the value of private citizen assistance, including whistleblowers, in pursuing lenders that violate the rules,” said Inspector General David A. Montoya of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“It is critically important that FHA-approved lenders comply with HUD’s underwriting standards and originate mortgages that borrowers can sustain,” said HUD General Counsel Helen Kanovsky.  “We are pleased M&T Bank worked with the Department of Justice and HUD to arrive at an agreeable settlement that protects FHA’s insurance fund.”

The allegations resolved by this settlement arose from a whistleblower lawsuit filed under the False Claims Act by a former employee of M&T Bank, Keisha Kelschenbach.  Under the False Claims Act, private citizens can sue on behalf of the government and share in any recovery.  The share to be awarded in this case has not yet been determined.

The settlement was the result of a joint investigation conducted by HUD, HUD’s Office of Inspector General, the Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York.

The lawsuit is captioned U.S. ex rel. Kelschenbach v. M&T Bank Corp, 13-CV-0280(S) (W.D.N.Y.).

ISRI gauging impact of coin buyback suspension

The American Metal Market Daily is the online resource for metals industry news and proprietary pricing information covering the steel, non-ferrous and scrap markets. Since its first print issue published in 1882, AMM has been the trusted name in metals industry information.  This is what AMM has learned about growing concerns reporrted by members of and recent actions taken by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI)  on their behalf (click below to access the article):

“Collecting coins out of scrap metal is a decades-old practice—particularly since the shredder came into being, and more so since the advent of advanced metal processing technology,” he said. “If it is hurting our members as a result of pricing of zorba or through the inability to sell direct back to U.S. Mint, then obviously we need to step in.”