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Case Number: 21-cv-1437
Judge: J. P. Stadtmueller
Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin (Milwaukee County)
Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office
Description: Milwaukee, Wisconsin civil litigation lawyer represented Defendant accused of violation the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729, which provides:
(a) Liability for Certain Acts.—
(1) In general.—Subject to paragraph (2), any person who—
(A) knowingly presents, or causes to be presented, a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval;
(B) knowingly makes, uses, or causes to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim;
(C) conspires to commit a violation of subparagraph (A), (B), (D), (E), (F), or (G);
(D) has possession, custody, or control of property or money used, or to be used, by the Government and knowingly delivers, or causes to be delivered, less than all of that money or property;
(E) is authorized to make or deliver a document certifying receipt of property used, or to be used, by the Government and, intending to defraud the Government, makes or delivers the receipt without completely knowing that the information on the receipt is true;
(F) knowingly buys, or receives as a pledge of an obligation or debt, public property from an officer or employee of the Government, or a member of the Armed Forces, who lawfully may not sell or pledge property; or
(G) knowingly makes, uses, or causes to be made or used, a false record or statement material to an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the Government, or knowingly conceals or knowingly and improperly avoids or decreases an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the Government,
is liable to the United States Government for a civil penalty of not less than $5,000 and not more than $10,000, as adjusted by the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act of 1990 (28 U.S.C. 2461 note; Public Law 104–410 1), plus 3 times the amount of damages which the Government sustains because of the act of that person.
(2) Reduced damages.—If the court finds that—
(A) the person committing the violation of this subsection furnished officials of the United States responsible for investigating false claims violations with all information known to such person about the violation within 30 days after the date on which the defendant first obtained the information;
(B) such person fully cooperated with any Government investigation of such violation; and
(C) at the time such person furnished the United States with the information about the violation, no criminal prosecution, civil action, or administrative action had commenced under this title with respect to such violation, and the person did not have actual knowledge of the existence of an investigation into such violation,
the court may assess not less than 2 times the amount of damages which the Government sustains because of the act of that person.
(3) Costs of civil actions.—A person violating this subsection shall also be liable to the United States Government for the costs of a civil action brought to recover any such penalty or damages.
(b) Definitions.—For purposes of this section—
(1) the terms “knowing” and “knowingly”—
(A) mean that a person, with respect to information—
(i) has actual knowledge of the information;
(ii) acts in deliberate ignorance of the truth or falsity of the information; or
(iii) acts in reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the information; and
(B) require no proof of specific intent to defraud;
(2) the term “claim”—
(A) means any request or demand, whether under a contract or otherwise, for money or property and whether or not the United States has title to the money or property, that—
(i) is presented to an officer, employee, or agent of the United States; or
(ii) is made to a contractor, grantee, or other recipient, if the money or property is to be spent or used on the Government's behalf or to advance a Government program or interest, and if the United States Government—
(I) provides or has provided any portion of the money or property requested or demanded; or
(II) will reimburse such contractor, grantee, or other recipient for any portion of the money or property which is requested or demanded; and
(B) does not include requests or demands for money or property that the Government has paid to an individual as compensation for Federal employment or as an income subsidy with no restrictions on that individual's use of the money or property;
(3) the term “obligation” means an established duty, whether or not fixed, arising from an express or implied contractual, grantor-grantee, or licensor-licensee relationship, from a fee-based or similar relationship, from statute or regulation, or from the retention of any overpayment; and
(4) the term “material” means having a natural tendency to influence, or be capable of influencing, the payment or receipt of money or property.
(c) Exemption From Disclosure.—Any information furnished pursuant to subsection (a)(2) shall be exempt from disclosure under section 552 of title 5.
(d) Exclusion.—This section does not apply to claims, records, or statements made under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.
Congress created the PPP loan program in March 2020 in an effort to provide emergency financial assistance to Americans suffering from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the PPP, eligible businesses could receive loans guaranteed by the SBA and, if the business spent the loan proceeds on qualified expenses, SBA would repay the loan on the borrower’s behalf.
In December 2020, Congress authorized certain borrowers who received an earlier PPP loan to obtain an additional “second-draw” loan. The second-draw loans included additional eligibility requirements, including a rule that any organization required to register with the Attorney General under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) was not permitted to receive a second-draw loan. A FARA registration obligation is triggered by certain work performed on behalf of foreign governments.
BVK is a public relations firm with its primary office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. BVK received both a first and second draw PPP loan. The government alleges that at the time BVK applied for the second-draw loan, it was performing public relations work on behalf of the Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism. According to the government, this work triggered a FARA-registration obligation, which in turn rendered BVK ineligible for a second-draw PPP loan. However, BVK applied for and received a $2 million second-draw loan, which SBA later repaid. BVK’s loan application did not disclose its FARA-registration obligation.
The government’s investigation resulted from a whistleblower complaint filed under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act. The whistleblower will receive a share of the settlement.
Assistant United States Attorney Carter Stewart represented the government in this matter. The settlement agreement states allegations only; BVK does not admit liability for the allegations.
Outcome: BVK agree to pay $2.25 million to settle the claim made against it.