USDOJ Grants and Grantees now in the Crosshairs

We see continuing signs of reinvigorated grant fraud enforcement.  The latest submisison involves a long simmering dispute that has resurfaced involving corporate fines that are recovered, allocated and spent by USDOJ.  USDOJ grants have been a source of frustration for supporters of the current Administration and some believe that white collar enforcement suffered as perverse incentives encouraged the offsets of criminal cases and terms of imprisonment in favor of large recoveries of fines from corporations (Does anyone from the cartel world recall the furious whispers about this case?).  Now there seems to be Trump Administration-led push to shine a media spotlight on USDOJ grants.  Typically, this foreshadows official actions:

Last night Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was on Fox News discussing the issue speaking in bellicose terms. This accompanied various news articles that covered various aspects of the dispute.

Today on Fox News there is a lengthy piece on the subject with sub links:

“It’s clear partisan politics played a role in the illicit actions that were made,” Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, told Fox News. “The DOJ is the last place this should have occurred.

Findings spearheaded by the House Judiciary Committee point to a process shrouded in secrecy whereby monies were distributed to a labyrinth of nonprofit organizations involved with grass-roots activism.”

To see how far some have delved into this issue, check out this google search.  You have to go to less established media sources like this InfoWars article referencing State Department grants to get a sense of where this could lead (some will need to don protective suits–oh what we have to do for risk analysis!).  Since there was not as much reporting as there could have been, it is likely this issue could get significant play now. There is also likely to be a convergence effect when problems in one grant tranch from one agency  spills over into other grant programs.

This latest resurfacing of this issue by White House allies suggests a trend and it will likely add to calls for a significant realignment of DOJ on the left side of the org chart and also in its mission in terms of how it helps victims. Particularly vulnerable to significant reform are CRS, OJP, COPS, Office of Violence Against Women (grants) (biannual report) and Office of Access to Justice.  Obviously, grants and grantees will be a subject of interest as well.

I have referenced a prior DOJ IG 2016 civil case here.  Designating an enforcement priority can change whether a case is criminal or civil because criminal investigation assets redeploy and there is often a multiplier effect because the combination of criminal and civil enforcement assets allows for parallel investigations.  Overnight,  a larger swath of FBI agents start trolling for footholds in grants or procurement areas.  Not good.  When investigators expand the duration or number of grants reviewed, when they send agents to do coordinated interviews while serving grand jury and inspector general subpoenas and when AUSA’s start calling witnesses before traditional grand jury investigations, things can change fast.

New York-Based Corning Incorporated to Pay U.S. $5.65 Million to Resolve False Claims Allegations

Corning Incorporated has agreed to pay the U nited States $5.65 million to resolve claims that it knowingly presented false claims to the United States for laboratory research products sold to federal agencies through Corning’s Life Sciences division.   Corning, a New York based corporation, creates and makes glass and ceramic components for consumer electronics, mobile emissions controls, telecommunications and life sciences.

 

The settlement resolves claims relating to a contract entered into by Corning in 2005 to sell laboratory research products to federal government entities through the General Services Administration’s (GSA) Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program.   The MAS program provides the government and other General Services Administration authorized purchasers with a streamlined process for procurement of commonly-used commercial goods and services. To be awarded a MAS contract, and thereby gain access to the broad government marketplace and the ease of administration that comes from selling to hundreds of government purchasers under one central contract, contractors must agree to disclose commercial pricing policies and practices, and to abide by the contract terms.

The settlement resolves allegations that, in contract negotiations and over the course of the contract’s administration, Corning knowingly failed to meet its contractual obligations to provide GSA with current, accurate and complete information about its commercial sales practices, including discounts offered to other customers, and that Corning knowingly made false statements to GSA about its sales practices and discounts .   The settlement further resolves allegations that Corning knowingly failed to comply with the price reduction clause of its GSA contract by failing to disclose to GSA discounts Corning gave to its commercial customers when they were higher than the discounts that Corning had disclosed to GSA, and by failing to pass those discounts on to government customers.   The United States alleged that, because of these improper dealings, it received lower discounts and ultimately paid far more than it should have for Corning products.

“This settlement shows that the United States expects all contractors participating in the MAS program to make full and accurate disclosures of their commercial pricing practices to the GSA and to act in good faith when dealing with the United States government,” said Stuart F. Delery, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.   “The failure to make full and accurate disclosures material to the government’s contracting processes will not be tolerated.”

 “At a time when our political leaders are making tough choices about how to rein in federal spending, government contractors need to understand that they will not get away with overbilling the taxpayer,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen Jr.  “Companies that want to take advantage of federal contracts are obligated to deal openly and fairly with their government customers.  When contractors fail to meet their obligations, we will hold them accountable and seek to make the taxpayer whole.”

“Contractors need to be honest and follow through with their promises to the federal government – or pay the consequences,” said Brian D. Miller, Inspector General for the General Services Administration.

The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by a former Corning Life Sciences sales representative Kevin Jones under the qui tam, or whistleblower provisions, of the False Claims Act.   Under the Act, private citizens may bring suit for false claims on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery obtained by the government.   Mr. Jones will receive $904,000 as his share of the government’s recovery.

 

This settlement was the result of a coordinated effort by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia; the Department of Justice, Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch; and the GSA’s Office of Inspector General in investigating the allegations in this case.   The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Former FBI Agent and Alleged Co-Conspirators Indicted for Scheme to Obstruct Federal Fraud Investigation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Former FBI Agent and Alleged Co-Conspirators Indicted for Scheme to Obstruct Federal Fraud Investigation

WASHINGTON – A federal grand jury in Salt Lake City today returned an 11-count indictment charging a former FBI special agent and two alleged accomplices with a scheme to use the agent’s official position to derail a federal investigation into the conduct of one of the alleged conspirators.  The charges were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney for the District of Utah David B. Barlow and Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz.

The indictment charges former FBI special agent Robert G. Lustyik Jr., 50, of Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.; Michael L. Taylor, 51, of Harvard, Mass., the principal of Boston-based American International Security Corporation (AISC); and Johannes W. Thaler, 49, of New Fairfield, Conn., each with one count of conspiracy, eight counts of honest services wire fraud, one count of obstructing justice and one count of obstructing an agency proceeding.

“According to the indictment, while active in the FBI, former Special Agent Lustyik used his position in an attempt to stave off the criminal investigation of a business partner with whom he was pursuing lucrative security and energy contracts,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer.  “He allegedly acted through a childhood friend to secure promises of cash, purported medical expenses and business proceeds in exchange for abusing his position as an FBI agent.  The alleged conduct is outrageous, and we will do everything we can to ensure that justice is done in this case.”

DOJ Inspector General Horowitz stated:  “Law enforcement officers are sworn to uphold the law.  Agents who would sell their badges and impede the administration of justice will be vigorously pursued.”

According to the indictment, Robert Lustyik was an FBI special agent until September 2012, assigned to counterintelligence work in White Plains, N.Y.  The indictment also states that from at least June 2011, the three alleged conspirators had a business relationship involving the pursuit of contracts for security services, electric power and energy development, among other things, in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.

The indictment alleges that in September 2011, Taylor learned of a federal criminal investigation, begun in Utah in 2010, into whether Taylor, his business and others committed fraud in the award and performance of a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Soon thereafter, Taylor allegedly began to give and offer things of value to Lustyik in exchange for Lustyik’s agreement to use his official position to impair and impede the Utah investigation.  The indictment also alleges that Thaler, a childhood friend of Lustyik’s, served as a conduit between Taylor and Lustyik, passing information and things of value.

Specifically, the indictment charges that Taylor offered Lustyik a $200,000 cash payment; money purportedly for the medical expenses of Lustyik’s minor child; and a share in the proceeds of several anticipated contracts worth millions of dollars.

According to the indictment, Lustyik used his official FBI position to impede the Utah investigation by, among other things, designating Taylor as an FBI confidential source, texting and calling the Utah investigators and prosecutors to dissuade them from charging Taylor and attempting to interview potential witnesses and targets in the Utah investigation.  As alleged in the indictment, Lustyik wrote to Taylor that he was going to interview one of Taylor’s co-defendants and “blow the doors off this thing.”  Referring to the Utah investigation, Lustyik also allegedly assured Taylor that he would not stop in his “attempt to sway this your way.”

According to the indictment, Lustyik, Taylor and Thaler attempted to conceal the full extent of Lustyik’s relationship with Taylor from the Utah prosecutors and agents, including by making and planning to make material misrepresentations and omissions to federal law enforcement involved in the investigation of Taylor.

For example, the indictment alleges that on Sept. 8, 2012, after Taylor was searched at the border and his computer seized, Lustyik sent a text message to Thaler, stating: “You might have to save me and testify that only you r doing business.”  Nine days later, according to the indictment, Thaler told federal law enforcement agents – in a voluntary, recorded interview – that Lustyik was not involved in Taylor’s and Thaler’s business.

The pair also allegedly used an email “dead drop” to avoid leaving a record of their interactions and used the names of football teams and nicknames as part of their coded communications.

Taylor and Lustyik were both previously arrested on prior criminal complaints in this case.  Taylor has been detained pending trial and Lustyik received a $2 million bond.  Thaler is expected to surrender to authorities tomorrow.

If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge, 20 years in prison on each of the wire fraud charges, 10 years in prison on the obstruction of justice charge and five years in prison on the obstruction of an agency proceeding charge.  Each charge also carries a maximum $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.  The indictment also seeks forfeiture of any proceeds traceable to the conspiracy, wire fraud and obstruction of justice offenses.

The case is being investigated by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General and prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Kevin Driscoll and Maria Lerner of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section; Acting Deputy Chief Pamela Hicks, Acting Assistant Deputy Chief Jeannette Gunderson and Trial Attorney Ann Marie Blaylock of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section; and Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos Esqueda.

The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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