The False Claims Act is one of the oldest laws in the federal statutes, having been enacted in the mid 1800s during the Lincoln Administration. This is why it is commonly referred to as the Lincoln Law. It was established to address false billing claims for goods and services being submitted to the government during the Civil War and paid before federal oversight agencies could inspect the bills for validity. It allows for anyone who has knowledge that the federal government is being defrauded to come forward with the evidence or testimony that enables the government to investigate and potentially file criminal charges. Even though government oversight agencies do perform regular payment audits, the majority of False Claims Act cases will include a “relator” who has brought information to the government. These cases can often be evaluated and settled before charges are even filed when the investigation target retains an experienced New York criminal attorney to potentially achieve a dismissal of the evidence being used in your case.
Civil and Criminal Issues
The initial investigation into a False Claims Act case is a civil process to determine what actually happened with respect to the erroneous and faulty billing. Many times billing problems can be rectified by restitution when the problem is evaluated and no intent is evident. In addition, any standing to sue legally belonging a relator can be eliminated when their statements are in question and no criminal intent is obvious. However, when it is apparent the informant is correct, the issue may well become both a criminal and a civil problem without solid legal representation by an aggressive New York City criminal defense attorney who can investigate the case on your behalf as well. The burden of proof in civil claims is a preponderance of the evidence, which is a much lower standard than the criminal requirement of beyond a reasonable doubt. This can be very important component of a case settlement when the issue is contentious.
Defending a False Claims Case
The False Clams Act allows “qui tam” standing to sue in certain situations for valid relators, including sharing in the financial proceeds returned to the government. “Qui tam” is the Latin term for “on behalf of the king.” Today this law is used broadly across all levels of government, and it is particularly applied in certain industries such as healthcare and certain military contracts. Many times the claims of the government are accurate and valid, but sometimes disgruntled employees present information to the a government oversight agency, which is usually a subset of the Department of Justice. If the claims of the relator are not found to be accurate, the potential for a lawsuit may stop immediately. Discounting the testimony of the informant is vital to a successful claim defense. In addition, many cases are handled as civil inquests first and criminal charges will only be applied if the problems also have a significant element of manipulation or intent to defraud by management officials. When evidence is found in computer forensics investigations, there are certain situations where errors are made in a mass production fashion that can result in a systemic billing problem that can be corrected by restitution.
Cases Can Be Very Serious
False Claims Act cases can be very precarious legal situations for those involved, and even one conviction can result in the shuttering of a personal business or a potential fine or jail sentence. This can occur in serious cases where the government has a strong case. Any federal claims tend to be more complicated than state enforcement, and becomes even more complicated when both levels of government are filing either civil or criminal claims. It is always important to invest in the future of your business and family by retaining an experienced New York City criminal defense attorney who has also served as a prosecutor and understands the avenues to follow when defending False Claims Act charges.
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