Broward County, Florida: The term “whistleblower” is used to describe a person who reports a violation of law or the commission of fraudulent activity. Depending on the circumstances, a whistleblower could be an employee of the organization that committed the fraud, an independent contractor or sub-contractor and their employees, or a private citizen. There are laws at both the federal and Florida state level in place to protect whistleblowers from harassment or retaliation as a result of the whistleblowing. It is absolutely vital that potential whistleblowers understand these laws and where to turn when they need help. At Law Offices Cytryn & Velazquez, P.A., our whistleblower protection attorneys are ready to investigate your case and ensure you are protected at the federal and state levels when you make the decision to come forward. We offer free consultations, and because we are able to operate and communicate with you remotely, you will not have to come into our office in order for us to evaluate your case.
Whistleblowers Help Expose Fraud and Other Wrongdoing
A whistleblower raises the alarm about unethical or illegal activities being committed by another person, a private organization or company, a government entity, or a non-profit. Whistleblowers are an essential element in the ongoing fight against fraud and waste. They help bring illicit activity to the light, so that wrongdoers can be held accountable for their actions. Whistleblower laws are often set up to protect those individuals who come forward even if they only suspect, but are not quite sure, that there is illicit activity taking place.
What Is a Qui Tam Case?
Qui tam is a type of whistleblower case where an individual will file a lawsuit on behalf of the federal government (state qui tam actions are discussed below). The individual brings the lawsuit alleging that an organization, company, or individual has committed fraud against the federal government. In certain instances, the federal government may take over the qui tam action from the individual who initially filed the lawsuit, and then the lawsuit would actually be prosecuted by the government itself.
Government fraud, in a qui tam case, can consist of a wide range of activities that essentially take money and resources illegally from the United States government. Some examples of fraud that may form a basis for a qui tam claim include:
- Overcharging the government for more goods than what was actually provided
- Bribery in contracts or procurement of government property
- Collusion amongst contractors concerning pricing or bidding
- False billing or double billing
- False certification on the quality of part, products, or test results (False Claims Act)
- Substituting inferior parts
- Siphoning money from government programs for personal use
- Misuse of government resources for personal use
If an individual successfully brings a qui tam lawsuit, or if the government ultimately takes over prosecuting the lawsuit and is successful, the individual may be entitled to share in the proceeds of the recovery.
Types of Whistleblower Cases
If you are thinking of disclosing or reporting any of the acts of fraud described below, contact our whistleblower protection lawyers to discuss this matter further. There are various types of fraud that whistleblowers seek to raise the alarm for. Some of the most common situations in which whistleblowers step forward include the following:
Health Care Fraud
According to the National Heath Care Anti-Fraud Association, health care fraud causes this country a loss of approximately $68 billion each year. Due to the size and complexity of the health care system in this country, fraud within the healthcare industry can be difficult to detect. The majority of health care fraud cases involve hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, physician practices, medical device companies, and insurance carriers. Some of the most common types of health care fraud include:
- Billing for services not provided
- Government payment at a level not consistent with actual services provided
- False statements to regulators about compliance
- Kickbacks from pharmaceutical or device companies to physicians or surgeons
- Off label marketing or promotion of pharmaceuticals or devices
Defense and Aerospace Contractor Fraud
The defense and aerospace industries reach far and wide throughout the state of Florida, and the amount of money that contractors make from the government is immense. Because of the complexity of the job that government contractors are asked to do and the amount of money involved, fraud can be hard to detect. There are simply not enough regulators to inspect every part of a contractor’s operation. That is why whistleblowers are such a vital part of uncovering illegal and fraudulent activity on the part of defense and aerospace contractors.
Tax and IRS Fraud
The IRS has a whistleblower protection office and regularly handles these cases. Tax fraud whistleblowers help the US government by reporting tax evasion or fraud by businesses or by high-income individuals.
Securities and investor fraud are often high-profile cases, but the reality is these cases happen regularly. The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of the Whistleblower helps handle these cases, and the most common types of securities investor fraud include:
- Corporate disclosures in financials
- Offering fraud
Procurement fraud can happen in many different ways, and these cases often fall under the False Claims Act as well as various state false claim laws. Procurement fraud revolves around the mechanism by which government entities acquire goods, property, or services. Because federal and state governments spend such a large amount on procurement, this type of fraud is particularly active and can include:
- Rigging bids for government contracts
- Overcharging the government
- False invoices
- Using inferior goods
What Federal Laws Protect Whistleblowers?
There are various federal laws in place to protect whistleblowers who choose to come forward. Some of the various programs include the following:
- The False Claims Act (FCA)
- Securities and Exchange (SEC) Whistleblower Law
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Whistleblower Program
- Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)Whistleblower Reward
- Commodity Futures Trading Commission Whistleblower Incentives and Protection
Florida Whistleblower Laws
In addition to the strong federal protections provided for whistleblowers, Florida law also protects against unlawful retaliation. For example, the Florida Whistleblower Act prohibits Florida state, local, and municipal government entities, as well as independent contractors engaged in business and under contract with those government entities, from retaliating against a person who discloses certain illicit actions, such as:
- Violations of federal, state, or local laws or rules, so long as the violation is a danger to the public health, safety or welfare;
- Gross mismanagement, malfeasance, or misfeasance,
- Gross waste of public funds;
- Medicaid fraud or abuse, or
- Gross neglect of duty
committed by an employee or agent of a government entity or independent contractor described in this section.
But in order to maintain the protections of the Florida Whistleblower Act, the person making the disclosure must make the disclosure to the appropriate authority that can lawfully investigate or remedy the violation. Oftentimes it can be difficult to determine which authority you need to disclose information to. That’s one of the many reasons you should contact a knowledgeable whistleblower protection lawyer who can help you determine the proper way to disclose the information.
Florida Qui Tam
The state of Florida has a qui tam statute that is comparable to the federal qui tam statute. In fact, the Florida statute is modeled after the federal statute, and also allows for successful qui tam plaintiffs to receive a portion of damages recovered against persons or entities who defrauded the state of Florida. Like the federal statute, Florida’s qui tam statute allows a private citizen to initiate a lawsuit (which must be filed in the Second Judicial Circuit in Leon County, Florida) on behalf of the state. The individual must provide a copy of the complaint and a disclosure of the material evidence and information that the individual possesses to the Florida Attorney General and Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Financial Services. If the state of Florida decides to intervene, it will take over the prosecution of the case. Otherwise, the individual is allowed to pursue the case on his or her own. Either way, the individual may be entitled to a portion of the proceeds recovered from a successful lawsuit.
Why Is an Attorney Important for These Types of Cases?
If we decide to take your case, our attorneys will do everything we can to ensure that you are treated fairly when you come forward about illegal or fraudulent activity. These cases can become incredibly complex, and anyone without a skilled attorney by their side is often at an increased risk of being terminated from their position or facing other forms of harassment and retaliation in the workplace, and potentially missing out on compensation that you could receive.
A whistleblower protection lawyer will work to ensure that you receive all protections that you may be entitled to under federal or state law, which potentially could include:
- Reinstatement to your former job
- Reinstatement to your previous seniority and salary level
- Recovery of any lost wages or benefits
- Compensation for future lost earnings
- Coverage of your court costs and attorney fees
- Compensation for damages you suffered due to being retaliated against by your employer
There are a number of reasons that a person may decide to come forward and report illegal activity. When an individual makes the decision to become a whistleblower, they should be protected. At Law Offices Cytryn & Velazquez, P.A., our team is ready to investigate your case so that you receive the protections and compensation you may be entitled to under federal and state law.
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