The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) recently announced that it is joining a whistleblower lawsuit charging AT&T for failing to prevent individuals from fraudulently using a subsidized telephone service intended for deaf people which resulted in the government losing millions of dollars. A former AT&T employee filed the original suit under the qui tam provision of the False Claims Act in October 2010 in the U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania.
The complaint charges the telecommunications giant with seeking payment from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission for Internet Protocol Relay (“IP Relay”) calls by international callers who were not eligible to receive this service. The DOJ has alleged that this amounted to millions of dollars. If you are aware of any fraud being committed against the government at your place of employment, our attorneys can help you figure out if you have a claim under the False Claims Act.
The whistleblower, Constance Lyttle, is a former communications assistant in one of AT&T’s IP Relay call centers. IP Relay allows a hearing impaired individual to make a telephone call by typing an internet message which is relayed by communication assistants. The deaf and hard of hearing receive this free service which allows them to place calls to hearing individuals through text messages over the Internet which are relayed by IP Relay provider employees. The FCC reimburses these providers, such as AT&T, about $1.30 per minute through a fund which is paid for by fees that are added to consumers’ phone bills.
The lawsuit charges AT&T with seeking payments from the FCC for IP Relay calls made by international callers who were not eligible for this service. In order to reduce fraud by foreign scammers using the system to defraud U.S. businesses with stolen credit cards, the FCC in 2009 required providers of this service to verify the accuracy of each registered user’s name and mailing address. AT&T, however, knowingly obtained a registration system that did not verify whether the user was located in the U.S. although it knew that 95% of its IP Relay calls were from foreign callers.
The qui tam provision of the False Claims Act allows an individual with knowledge of fraud being committed against the government to bring an action on behalf of the government. The Act requires that in order for you to file an action, you must be represented by an attorney. Although there is a very detailed process for filing violations under this statute, the recovery to the individual can be very rewarding. You can recover anywhere from 15% to 30% of the government’s recovery depending on whether the government intervenes in your action.
The whistleblower statute is one of the government’s best weapons in fighting fraud that would otherwise go undetected, costing taxpayers millions of dollars. For example, if Lyttle had not brought this whistleblower action, the fraud could have potentially gone on indefinitely. If you know of fraud being committed against the workplace, call our Whistleblower Attorneys at Villanueva & Sanchala at (800) 893-9645 to figure out if you have a claim under the False Claims Act. The monetary recovery as well as saving taxpayer monies can be worth the trouble.
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