The United States is one of the largest and most diverse economies in the world. It now has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide. Like the United States as a whole South Florida is one of the most complex economies in Florida. Billions of dollars of business is done in South Florida every year. Now, the business and flow of those billions of dollars is under strain.
The financial strain of COVID-19 can lead to financial issues for businesses large and small. It may also lead to businesses and people doing things they otherwise would not do like filing false loan applications, making false claims with the Florida and United States governments, committing fraud, and price-gauging consumers.
The issue of false claims for taxpayer government money is likely to be a real problem now. People and businesses are strained, and that often leads them to do things they otherwise would not do. It is not only a crime to make a false claim for money from a bank or the government, but there are also civil penalties and other consequences. We have an obligation as a society to make sure we do not do these things and to report those that do. No one wants to have their hard-earned dollars that they paid in taxes to be used by someone else in a way they should not. Plus, if you report a false claim in a whistleblower (qui tam) case, you can get a reward for doing it. The taxpayers win and you win.
So now, you ask, what is a false claim? A false claim is fraud on the government. A person or business makes a misrepresentation to the government or someone else to get government money, or the business properly gets the government money but then uses it improperly. Think of it this way. If a person or business in any way gets or uses Florida or federal money improperly, there may be a false claim and a whistleblower opportunity for you where you can help the community and yourself.
Let us look at a specific example. The United States recently enacted the Paycheck Protection Program that is in the CARES Act to help businesses keep their employees on staff and paid during the COVID-19 outbreak. It is an honorable undertaking to try to keep people paid so they can pay their bills and take care of their families. However, there is a limited amount of money for the Paycheck Protection Program. What happens if unscrupulous people lie to get that money or get that money properly but then use it on things besides keeping staff employed? It goes against the purpose of the government and it goes against you and your family. An example of this is a business making representations to a bank that it qualifies for the Paycheck Protection Program under the CARES act, when it really does not. In that case, the business takes taxpayer and government money to which it is not entitled. Another example of a false claim is a business properly applies for and gets Paycheck Protection money but chooses not to use it on its people. Instead, the owner pays his personal car lease or funnels money to a different business. That is potentially a false claim.
There are a lot of approved uses for Paycheck Protection Program money and other federal money available during the COVID-19 outbreak, but there also a lot of false uses. Understanding whether the use of money is proper is difficult, and reporting it as a whistleblower to the government is even more difficult. There is a specific unique set of steps that have to be followed. We have represented whistleblowers in many cases, and we can help you determine whether you have false claims to report. If you think you know of someone improperly taking or using Paycheck Protection Program or other government money improperly, contact us for a free consultation about whether you have a whistleblower claim.