Washington, DC, October 25, 2023–The United States announced the third settlement to conclude a $25 million whistleblower lawsuit filed by Phillips & Cohen LLP alleging fraud against the Federal Emergency Management Agency program related to Hurricane Katrina damage.
The $11.8 million settlement with the architectural and engineering firm AECOM is in addition to previous settlements the government reached with Xavier University and the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The US Department of Justice joined the whistleblower case, in part. The total amount of the three settlements with the government is $24.85 million.
The settlement resolved allegations that damage descriptions and estimates submitted to FEMA for various buildings were inaccurate or inflated, causing FEMA to make larger payouts that FEMA rules allow.
“As domestic disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, floods and pandemics increase in frequency – requiring FEMA to provide more and more assistance – this case made an increasingly important point: FEMA rules must be followed by recipients and contractors alike. By shining a light, this case preserves the program for those involved in future disasters,” said, Amy L. Easton, a whistleblower attorney and partner at Phillips & Cohen LLP.
“The program relies on those FEMA helps – and those who help FEMA – to provide accurate damage information. The program also relies, as in this case, on those who see something to say something,” said Jeffrey W. Dickstein, a whistleblower attorney and partner at Phillips & Cohen LLP.
Phillips & Cohen filed the qui tam lawsuit on behalf of its client, a project officer assigned to the Katrina disaster, in federal district court in New Orleans in 2016. The government has awarded him a share of the funds recovered from all three settlements as provided by the False Claims Act for successful qui tam cases.
Gerald E. Meunier of Gainsburgh, Benjamin, David, Meunier & Warshauer, L.L.C. was invaluable as local counsel.
The lawsuit was filed under the whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act and allows private citizens to file “qui tam” lawsuits against companies that are defrauding the government and recover funds on the government’s behalf. Whistleblowers are provided protection against job retaliation under the False Claims Act and given rewards that range from 15% to 25% of the recovery when the government joins the case.
The settlement agreement.