Americans love rooting for the underdog, especially when the underdog is a whistleblower challenging telecom giant AT&T. At stake is $2.5 billion of taxpayer money. If the damages are trebled, the suit could be one of the largest whistleblower victories in history. A hearing scheduled for this May may give us some answers.
The lawsuit was filed by a private consultant working for the government. He believed that AT&T, Verizon and Sprint were overcharging the government for telephone service. According to him, the fraud is widespread and involves hundreds of government agencies.
The whistleblower filing this lawsuit should know. He performs rate analysis and billing audits for hundreds of companies and the government. It is his job to know when someone is being overcharged.
In 2013, the whistleblower filed a complaint under the federal False Claims Act. That law allows individuals with inside information about fraud to file a lawsuit in the name of the government. To make a claim, one must have inside information about fraud involving government funds or programs.
His complaint was previously dismissed but the court allowed him to fix the defects in his complaint and refile. The hearing scheduled for this May may be his last shot to move his case forward.
AT&T claims that he is not an insider and that his complaint is to general. Court rules say fraud complaints must recite the “who, what, when, where and how.”
Most False Claims Act cases are brought by present or former employees of the wrongdoer. Those folks often have the best insider knowledge. We have brought claims, however, for folks like this whistleblower. The law requires inside or original source information. It does not require the whistleblower to be an employee. Bringing non-employee claims is difficult, however.
AT&T asks the court to dismiss the complaint once and for all. They say that because the whistleblower was never employed by AT&T, he can’t have inside information. Although the government has not yet joined in the lawsuit, it does agree that outside consultants can be whistleblowers and can receive awards for their information.
Often in case like this we seek a second whistleblower, one that works or worked at the company. Together, the two whistleblowers can often present a case much better than if either attempted alone.
What is interesting to note is how AT&T is defending this case. Instead of demonstrating why the complaint is wrong on its merits is wrong, they appear to be fighting the case on legal technicalities. In other words, we believe that AT& T knows they are wrong.
False Claims Act and Whistleblower Awards
You may be wondering what a whistleblower has to gain if he or she wins. Since the victim is the government, any reduced phone bills won’t directly affect him.
The answer is found in the False Claims Act. The government can collect triple damages from the wrongdoer and the whistleblower can get between 15% and 30% of whatever the government collects. In this case, the award will probably be on the higher end of the scale.
Whistleblower Opportunity: 911 Surcharges
We are currently investigating claims that some phone companies are under billing private customers for 911 surcharges. In almost every state, phone companies are required to collect a surcharge on landlines, cell service and VOIP lines. The money goes to support enhanced 911 and emergency dispatch services.
We are presently looking for both consumers and phone company officials with knowledge of 911 surcharge underbilling. The telecommunications industry has become so competitive, that some carriers may be collecting less than they should. That lets then charge lower rates but hurts taxpayers.
If you have information about 911 surcharge issues or other improper phone company billing practices, contact us. All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept strictly confidential.
In 2014, the federal government paid out over $435,000,000.00 in awards. You could be next but only if you step forward and file a False Claims Act lawsuit.
MahanyLaw – America’s Qui Tam and Whistleblower Lawyers.
*Not all cases generate an award. Awards are based on a number of factors including who is first to file.