CEO Indicted For Wire Fraud And Aggravated Identity Theft

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Greenbelt, Maryland – A federal grand jury has indicted Zheng Geng, a/k/a “Jason Geng”, age 59, of Vienna, Virginia, on charges related to a scheme to defraud the United States. The indictment was returned on August 9, 2017, and unsealed today upon the arrest of Geng. Geng is the Chief Executive Officer of Xigen LLC (Xigen), which has offices in Maryland and Virginia.

The indictment was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Stephen M. Schenning; Inspector General Paul Martin of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Office of Inspector General; Inspector General Allison Lerner of the National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General; Special Agent in Charge Nick DiGiulio of the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General; Special Agent in Charge Gordon Thompson of the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General; and Special Agent in Charge Gordon B. Johnson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office.

According to the six-count indictment, Geng devised a scheme between 2005 to 2016 to defraud the United States by submitting false and fraudulent grant applications under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. The SBIR program aims to stimulate United States technological innovation. A further aim is to foster and encourage participation in technical innovation by socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses that in some instances are at least 51-percent owned and controlled by women. Geng prepared materially fraudulent proposals for awards, subsequent reports, and related communications under the programs.

To support the applications, Geng submitted endorsements for his grant applications using the identities of people without their permission, or misrepresenting their positions within Xigen. In addition, he submitted endorsements that misrepresented active affiliations with various universities including, Harvard University Medical School and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and budgeted funds for subcontractors without their knowledge and without providing them with budgeted funds. With this false information, the United States government approved SBIR program awards and grants through the Department of Health and Human Service’s National Institutes of Health and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The awards totaled over $1.8 million.

According to court documents, Geng used the rewarded funds for his own personal use and the use of his family members and associates.

“The NASA Office of Inspector General will continue to aggressively investigate those who undermine and defraud NASA programs and operations,” said Inspector General Martin. “The NASA OIG appreciates the efforts of the entire investigative and prosecution team during this multi-year investigation, and we look forward to continued cooperation with our law enforcement partners in this and related matters.”

Allison Lerner, Inspector General for the National Science Foundation said, “The SBIR program is a valuable tool for advancing promising new technologies. My office will continue to vigorously pursue attempts to defraud scarce research dollars intended to promote economic growth through innovative SBIR investments.”

“The United States Department of Health and Human services provides research grant funds to qualified small businesses; we cannot tolerate the theft of taxpayer funds meant for honest research projects” said Nick DiGiulio, Special Agent in Charge for the Inspector General’s Office of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Geng faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for wire fraud and a 2-year mandatory minimum consecutive sentence for each of the aggravated identity theft charges.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.

Acting United States Attorney Stephen M. Schenning commended the NASA Office of Inspector General, the National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General, the HHS Office of Inspector General, U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General and the FBI for their work in the investigation. Mr. Schenning thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Phil Selden and Jennifer Sykes, who are prosecuting the case and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Salem who also helped investigate this case.

Contact ELIZABETH MORSE at (410) 209-4885

www.justice.gov/usao/md       

Woman Pleads Guilty to Medicaid Fraud and Identity Theft Charges

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Richmond woman pleaded guilty today healthcare fraud and aggravated identity theft.

According to court documents, Chermeca Harris, 36, was a Medicaid beneficiary and would misrepresent her health condition to health care providers, such as hospitals and ambulance services, in order to obtain health care benefits. Specifically, Harris would falsely represent that she was suffering from sickle cell anemia and was having a sickle cell crisis in order to obtain pain killing drugs, such as dilaudid, which she wanted to receive intravenously through the neck. In fact, doctors tested Harris in January 2016, and determined she did not have sickle cell anemia. The hospitals involved were Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, Chippenham, Bon Secours St. Mary’s, Memorial Regional, John Randolph Medical Center, and Henrico Doctor’s. According to court documents, it was a further part of the scheme that Harris also falsely represented her identity. On some occasions she used the name of M.M., and on other occasions she used the name of R.J.; both Medicaid recipients. She also falsely stated to investigating federal agents that her name was M.M. and that she had sickle cell anemia.

Harris was charged as part of the largest ever health care fraud enforcement action by the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, involving 412 charged defendants across 41 federal districts, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, for their alleged participation in health care fraud schemes involving approximately $1.3 billion in false billings. Of those charged, over 120 defendants, including doctors, were charged for their roles in prescribing and distributing opioids and other dangerous narcotics. Thirty state Medicaid Fraud Control Units also participated in today’s arrests. In addition, HHS has initiated suspension actions against 295 providers, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

Harris pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud on the Medicaid program and aggravated identity theft. She faces a mandatory minimum of two years in prison and a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison, when sentenced on October 26. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Adam S. Lee, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Field Office; and Nick DiGiulio, Special Agent in Charge, Philadelphia Regional Office of Inspector General of Department of Health and Human Services, made the announcement after the plea was accepted by Magistrate Judge David J. Novak. Assistant U.S. Attorney David T. Maguire is prosecuting the case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information is located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 3:17-cr-77.

Former Government Contractor Sentenced to 60 Months for His Participation in Bribery Conspiracy

Friday, July 28, 2017

A former owner of a government contracting company that serviced the Military Sealift Command (MSC) was sentenced to 60 months in prison, and to pay a $15,000 fine, for his participation in a bribery conspiracy from approximately 1999 to 2014, in which he provided a contracting official at MSC with almost $3 million in bribes.  Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia made the announcement.

U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen today sentenced Joseph P. Allen, 56, of Panama City, Florida, following his guilty plea on April 19, to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

According to the statement of facts included in Allen’s guilty plea, Allen conspired with a government contracting official, Scott B. Miserendino, Sr., 58, formerly of Stafford, Virginia, to use Miserendino’s position at MSC to enrich themselves through bribery.  Specifically, beginning in about 1999, Miserendino used his position and influence at MSC to facilitate and expand Allen’s company’s commission agreement with a third-party telecommunications company that sold maritime satellite services to MSC.  Unknown to MSC or the telecommunications company, throughout the scheme, Allen paid half of the commissions he received from that telecommunications company to Miserendino as bribes.

For his role in the scheme, Miserendino was charged in a five-count indictment on May 4, with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and honest services mail fraud, one count of bribery, and three counts of honest services mail fraud.  His trial is currently scheduled for October 31, before U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Beach Smith.  The charges and allegations against Miserendino contained in the indictment are merely accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The Norfolk offices of the FBI, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigated the case.  Trial Attorneys Sean F. Mulryne and Molly Gaston of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen W. Haynie of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.

District of Columbia Woman Sentenced to 63 Months in Prison For Her Role in Scheme That Used Stolen Identities To Fraudulently Seek Tax Refunds

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wide-Ranging Operation Filed Over 12,000 Fraudulent Tax Returns Seeking More Than $42 Million

WASHINGTON – A District of Columbia woman was sentenced today to 63 months in prison for her involvement in a scheme to fraudulently obtain millions of dollars in income tax refunds, announced U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips; Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division; Special Agent in Charge Kimberly Lappin of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Washington D.C. Field Office; Inspector in Charge Robert B. Wemyss of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Washington Division, and Assistant Inspector General for Investigations John L. Phillips of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Tarkara Cooper, 34, was convicted by a jury on Feb. 17, 2017, for conspiring to commit theft of government funds and defraud the United States and theft of public money. Two of her co-defendants, Tony Bryant, 55, and his son, Brian Bryant, 29, both of Clinton, Md., were also convicted at trial and are awaiting sentencing.

Cooper was part of a massive sophisticated stolen identity refund fraud scheme that involved a network of more than 130 people, many of whom were receiving public assistance. Conspirators fraudulently claimed refunds for tax years 2005 through 2012, often in the names of people whose identities had been stolen, including the elderly, people in assisted living facilities, drug addicts and incarcerated prisoners. Returns were also filed in the names of, and refunds were issued to, willing participants in the scheme. The returns filed listed more than 400 “taxpayer” addresses located in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. According to court documents, the overall case involved the filing of at least 12,000 fraudulent federal income tax returns that sought at least $42 million in refunds.

Conspirators played various roles in the scheme: stealing identifying information; allowing their personal identifying information to be used; creating and mailing fraudulent federal tax returns; allowing their addresses to be used for receipt of the refund checks; cashing the refund checks; providing bank accounts into which the refund checks were deposited and forging endorsements of identity theft victims on the refund checks. The false returns typically reported inflated or fictitious income from a sole proprietorship and claimed phony dependents to generate an Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable federal income tax credit for working families with low to moderate incomes. To date, approximately two dozen participants in this scheme have pleaded guilty.

According to the evidence presented at trial, from approximately April 2010 through June 2012, Cooper and the Bryants participated in claiming $4,959,310 in fraudulent refunds, of which the IRS paid out approximately $2,285,717. Cooper agreed to allow her residence to be used for the delivery of tax refund checks, and was paid by a co-conspirator when she provided the tax refund checks to him. The Bryants deposited refund checks fraudulently obtained by others into accounts that they controlled.

In addition to the term of prison imposed, U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ordered Cooper to serve three years of supervised release and to pay $1,926,958 in restitution to the IRS. She also ordered a forfeiture money judgment of $16,750.

U.S. Attorney Phillips, Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Goldberg, Special Agent in Charge Lappin, Inspector in Charge Wemyss, and Assistant Inspector General Phillips commended the special agents who conducted the investigation and acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia, including former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri L. Schornstein; Assistant U.S. Attorney Chrisellen Kolb; Paralegal Specialists Jessica Mundi, Aisha Keys, and Donna Galindo; former Paralegal Specialist Julie Dailey; Litigation Technology Specialist Ron Royal; Investigative Analysts William Hamann and Zachary McMenamin, and Victim/Witness Advocate Tonya Jones. They also expressed appreciation for the work of Trial Attorneys Jeffrey B. Bender, Thomas F. Koelbl, and Jessica Moran of the Tax Division, who worked on the case.

Finally, they commended the work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ellen Chubin Epstein and Michelle Bradford of the District of Columbia’s Fraud and Public Corruption Section and Trial Attorney Kimberly G. Ang of the Tax Division, who prosecuted the case, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Lucas, who assisted with forfeiture issues.

Additional information about the Tax Division’s enforcement efforts can be found on the division’s website.

Three Sentenced for Roles in Healthcare Conspiracy

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Deborah Branch, Bryan Harr, Melissa Harr Will All Serve Time in Federal Prison

Abingdon, VIRGINIA – Three Bristol, Virginia residents, who were previously convicted of healthcare fraud, were sentenced today in Federal Court, Acting United States Attorney Rick A. Mountcastle, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring and Nick DiGiulio, Special Agent in Charge, Philadelphia Regional Office for U.S. Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General announced.

Deborah Branch, 65, was sentenced today to 72 months in federal prison. In a pair of separate hearings today, Bryan Harr, 41, was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison and Melissa Harr, 49, was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison. The three previously pled guilty to federal healthcare conspiracy charges. Branch additionally pled guilty to wire fraud.

“This case shows that fraud committed against our federal and state health care benefit programs is more than just simple theft of government money, there is a sinister side to the greed that fuels the criminal acts of defendants like these,” Acting United States Attorney Mountcastle said today. “This type of greed brings physical and emotional devastation upon the innocent, vulnerable victims for whom essential services are denied, simply to satiate the greed of these defendants. In this case, children were forced to live in filth in a room without electricity. The United States Attorney’s Office, and our partners at the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, Health and Human Services and others, will continue to aggressively pursue fraudsters, like Branch and the Harrs, whose criminal actions bring harm to vulnerable victims.”

“Anyone who diverts public funds for their private benefit is stealing from all of us and undermining an important system that provides thousands of Virginians with needed medical services,” said Attorney General Mark Herring. “A situation where people steal that money at the expense of their own disabled child is even more horrifying and unacceptable, and I’m glad to see these criminals brought to justice today. My award-winning Medicaid Fraud Unit and I will be relentless in holding accountable those who try to take advantage of our health care system.”

“It is shocking to imagine parents who would for many years neglect their disabled child and allow him to suffer horribly while they worked to steal taxpayer money meant to pay for the child’s much needed care,” said Special Agent in Charge Nick DiGiulio of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. “We are satisfied that justice was served today, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to jail heartless criminals who prey on beneficiaries and our health care system.”

According to evidence presented at previous hearings, Bryan Harr Sr. and his wife, Melissa Harr, hired Branch to work with one of their children, who suffers from intellectual and physical disabilities and who qualifies for services paid for by Virginia Medicaid, including personal assistance, respite and residential support services. These services are available to qualified individuals pursuant to Virginia Medicaid’s Intellectual Disability (ID) waiver program. The ID waiver program is designed to provide critical services that enable a recipient to remain at home instead of being placed in an institution. Recipients or their guardians are permitted to hire workers of their own choosing to provide these services, which are paid for by Virginia Medicaid. Branch was paid through two different Virginia Medicaid contractors: Public Partnerships, LLC and ResCare (formerly known as Creative Family Solutions).

From January 2010 until September 2015, Branch, with the knowledge of Melissa Harr and Bryan Harr Sr., submitted time sheets claiming Branch was providing services for Harr’s disabled son when she was not. In exchange for assisting Branch in being paid for work she did not do, Branch paid the Harrs approximately $200 every two weeks. Virginia Medicaid’s Department of Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) paid out $350,641.02 to the contractors based on these time sheets, of which $207,854.43 was paid to Branch. More importantly, the Harr’s disabled son did not receive the services he legitimately needed pursuant to the ID waiver program.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, and the Bristol Virginia Police Department. Special Assistant United States Attorney Janine M. Myatt, a Virginia Assistant Attorney General, prosecuted the case for the United States.

Former U.S. Naval Attaché and Military Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador in the Philippines Sentenced for Taking Bribes

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Retired U.S. Navy Captain was sentenced in federal court today to 41 months in prison for his role in a massive bribery and fraud scheme involving foreign defense contractor Leonard Glenn Francis and his firm, Singapore-based, Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA).

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson Southern District of California, Director Dermot O’Reilly of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and Director Andrew Traver of the NCIS made the announcement.

In addition to the 41-month prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino ordered Michael Brooks, 59, of Fairfax Station, Virginia, to pay a $41,000 fine and $31,000 in restitution to the U.S. Navy.  Brooks pleaded guilty in November 2016 to one count of conspiracy to commit bribery.

Brooks, who served as the U.S. Naval Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines, from 2006 to 2008, has admitted accepting bribes of travel and entertainment expenses, hotel rooms and the services of prostitutes. In return, Brooks admitted that he used his power and influence to benefit GDMA and Francis, including by securing quarterly clearances for GDMA vessels, which allowed GDMA vessels to transit into and out of the Philippines under the diplomatic imprimatur of the U.S. Embassy. Neither GDMA nor any other defense contractor has ever been granted such unfettered clearances.

Brooks admitted that he also allowed Francis to ghostwrite official U.S. Navy documents and correspondence, which Brooks submitted as his own. For example, Brooks admitted allowing GDMA to complete its own contractor performance evaluations. A November 2007 evaluation, drafted by GDMA and submitted by Brooks, described the company’s performance as “phenomenal,” “unsurpassed,” “exceptional” and “world class.” Brooks also admitted providing Francis with sensitive, internal U.S. Navy information, including U.S. Navy ship schedules and billing information belonging to a GDMA competitor, at times using a private Yahoo! e-mail account to mask his illicit acts.

Twenty-one current and former Navy officials have been charged so far in the fraud and bribery investigation; 10 have pleaded guilty and 10 cases are pending. In addition, five GDMA executives and GDMA the corporation have pleaded guilty.

NCIS, DCIS and DCAA are conducting the ongoing investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Mark W. Pletcher and Patrick Hovakimian of the Southern District of California and Assistant Chief Brian R. Young of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.

Anyone with information relating to fraud, corruption or waste in government contracting should contact the NCIS anonymous tip line at www.ncis.navy.mil or the DOD Hotline at www.dodig.mil/hotline, or call (800) 424-9098.

“My take is this deal is dead” states Allen Grunes in Bloomberg: “AMR-US Airways Antitrust Suit Seen as Difficult to Settle”

From Bloomberg:

The challenge brought by the U.S. Justice Department can be compared with its lawsuit seeking to block AT&T Inc. (T)’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile USA Inc. in 2011, said Allen Grunes, an antitrust lawyer with GeyerGorey LLP. AT&T eventually dropped its bid for T-Mobile. “My take is that the deal is dead,” Grunes said. “Based on the complaint, this merger doesn’t look like it can be fixed with divestitures or slot sales.”

Read More By Clicking Below:

AMR-US Airways Antitrust Suit Seen as Difficult to Settle

 

Maurice Stucke Quoted in Wall Street Journal’s “Merging Airlines, Concessions May Not Be Enough.”

Excerpt:
“In the case of United Airlines and Continental Airlines, the companies cleared the hurdle after agreeing to lease 18 daily “slot pairs” — the government-issued rights to take off and land – at Newark Liberty International Airport to Southwest Airlines.

‘The DOJ really drew a line in the sand,” said Mr. Stucke. “They basically looked at all of the consolidations up to this point and found that consumers haven’t significantly benefited but rather consumers have been harmed.'”

For entire article, click below:

For Merging Airlines, Concessions May Not Be Enough

 

Justice Department Files Antitrust Lawsuit Challenging Proposed Merger Between US Airways and American Airlines Merger Would Result in U.S. Consumers Paying Higher Airfares and Receiving Less Service; Lawsuit Seeks to Maintain Competition in the Airline Industry

The Department of Justice, six state attorneys general and the District of Columbia filed a civil antitrust lawsuit today challenging the proposed $11 billion merger between US Airways Group Inc. and American Airlines’ parent corporation, AMR Corp.  The department said that the merger, which would result in the creation of the world’s largest airline, would substantially lessen competition for commercial air travel in local markets throughout the United States and result in passengers paying higher airfares and receiving less service.

The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, along with the attorneys general, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which seeks to prevent the companies from merging and to preserve the existing head-to-head competition between the firms that the transaction would eliminate.   The participating attorneys general are:   Texas, where American Airlines is headquartered; Arizona, where US Airways is headquartered; Florida; the District of Columbia; Pennsylvania; Tennessee; and Virginia.

“Airline travel is vital to millions of American consumers who fly regularly for either business or pleasure,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.   “By challenging this merger, the Department of Justice is saying that the American people deserve better.   This transaction would result in consumers paying the price – in higher airfares, higher fees and fewer choices.   Today’s action proves our determination to fight for the best interests of consumers by ensuring robust competition in the marketplace.”

Last year, business and leisure airline travelers spent more than $70 billion on airfare for travel throughout the United States.    In recent years, major airlines have, in tandem, raised fares, imposed new and higher fees and reduced service, the department said.

“The department sued to block this merger because it would eliminate competition between US Airways and American and put consumers at risk of higher prices and reduced service,” said Bill Baer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division. “If this merger goes forward, even a small increase in the price of airline tickets, checked bags or flight change fees would result in hundreds of millions of dollars of harm to American consumers.   Both airlines have stated they can succeed on a standalone basis and consumers deserve the benefit of that continuing competitive dynamic.”

American and US Airways compete directly on more than a thousand routes where one or both offer connecting service, representing tens of billions of dollars in annual revenues.   They engage in head-to-head competition with nonstop service on routes worth about $2 billion in annual route-wide revenues.   Eliminating this head-to-head competition would give the merged airline the incentive and ability to raise airfares, the department said in its complaint.

According to the department’s complaint, the vast majority of domestic airline routes are already highly concentrated.  The merger would create the largest airline in the world and result in four airlines controlling more than 80 percent of the United States commercial air travel market.
The merger would also entrench the merged airline as the dominant carrier at Washington Reagan National Airport, with control of 69 percent of the take-off and landing slots.   The merged airline would have a monopoly on 63 percent of the nonstop routes served out of Reagan National airport.   As a result, Washington, D.C., area passengers would likely see higher prices and fewer choices if the merger is allowed, the department said in its complaint.   Blocking the merger will preserve current competition and service, including flights that US Airways currently offers from Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

The complaint also describes how, in recent years, the major airlines have succeeded in raising prices, imposing new fees and reducing service.  The complaint quotes several public statements by senior US Airways executives directly attributing this trend to a reduction in the number of competitors in the U.S. market:

  • President Scott Kirby said, “Three successful fare increases – [we are] able to pass along to customers because of consolidation.”
  • At an industry conference in 2012, Kirby said, “Consolidation has also…allowed the industry to do things like ancillary revenues…. That is a structural permanent change to the industry and one that’s impossible to overstate the benefit from it.”
  • As US Airways CEO Parker stated in February 2013, combining US Airways and American would be “ the last major piece needed to fully rationalize the industry.”
  • A US Airways document said that capacity reductions have “enabled” fare increases.

“The merger of these two important competitors will just make things worse –exacerbating current airline industry trends toward reduced service, increasing fares and increasing passenger fees,” added Baer.

As the complaint describes, absent the merger, US Airways and American will continue to provide important competitive constraints on each other and on other airlines.   Today, US Airways competes vigorously for price-conscious travelers by offering discounts of up to 40 percent for connecting flights on other airlines’ nonstop routes under its Advantage Fares program. The other legacy airlines – American, Delta and United – routinely match the nonstop fares where they offer connecting service in order to avoid inciting costly fare wars.   The Advantage Fares strategy has been successful for US Airways because its network is different from the networks of the larger carriers. If the proposed merger is completed, the combined airline’s network will look more like the existing American, Delta and United networks, and as a result, the Advantage Fares program will likely be eliminated, resulting in higher prices and less services for consumers. An internal analysis at American in October 2012, concluded, “The [Advantage Fares] program would have to be eliminated in a merger with American, as American’s large, nonstop markets would now be susceptible to reactionary pricing from Delta and United.”   And, another American executive said that same month, “The industry will force alignment to a single approach–one that aligns with the large legacy carriers as it is revenue maximizing.”   By ending the Advantage Fares program, the merger would eliminate lower fares for millions of consumers, the department said.

The complaint also alleges that the merger is likely to result in higher ancillary fees, such as fees charged for checked bags and flight changes.   In recent years, the airlines have introduced fees for those services, which were previously included in the price of a ticket. These fees have become huge profit centers for the airlines.   In 2012, domestic airlines generated more than $6 billion in fees from checked bags and flight changes alone.   The legacy carriers often match each other when one introduces or increases a fee, and if others do not match the initiating carrier tends to withdraw the change.   By reducing the number of airlines, the merger will likely make it easier for the remaining carriers to coordinate fee increases, resulting in higher fees for consumers.

The department also said that the merger will make coordination easier among the legacy carriers.   Although low-cost carriers such as Southwest and JetBlue offer consumers many benefits, they fly to fewer locations and are unlikely to be able to constrain the coordinated behavior among those carriers.

American Airlines is currently operating in bankruptcy.   Absent the merger, American is likely to exit bankruptcy as a vigorous competitor, with strong incentives to grow to better compete with Delta and United, the department said. American recently made the largest aircraft order in industry history, and its post-bankruptcy standalone plan called for increasing both the number of flights and the number of destinations served by those flights at each of its hubs.

The department’s complaint describes US Airways executives’ fear of American’s standalone growth plan as “industry destabilizing.”   The complaint states that US Airways worries that American’s growth plan would cause “others” to react “with their own enhanced growth plans…,” and that the resulting effect would increase competitive pressures throughout the industry.   The department said the merger will allow US Airways’ management to abandon these aggressive growth plans and continue the industry’s current trend toward higher prices and less service.

The department’s complaint states that executives of both airlines have repeatedly said that they do not need the merger to succeed.   The complaint states that US Airways’ CEO observed in December 2011, that “A[merican] is not going away, they will be stronger post-bankruptcy because they will have less debt and reduced labor costs.”   US Airways’ executive vice president wrote in July 2012, that, “There is NO question about AMR’s ability to survive on a standalone basis.”   And, as recently as January 2013, American’s management presented plans that would increase the destinations it serves in the United States and the frequency of its flights, and would position American to compete independently as a profitable airline with aggressive plans for growth.

AMR is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Fort Worth, Texas.   AMR is the parent company of American Airlines.   Last year American flew more than 80 million passengers to more than 250 destinations worldwide and took in more than $24 billion in revenue.   In November 2011, American filed for bankruptcy reorganization.

US Airways is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Tempe, Ariz.   Last year US Airways flew more than 50 million passengers to more than 200 destinations worldwide and took in more than $13 billion in revenue.