The Justice Department Civil Division chief on Monday announced one of the highest annual civil fraud claims recoveries, touting the Barack Obama administration’s dedicated pursuit of swindlers.
Assistant Attorney General Tony West of the Civil Division told reporters at DOJ headquarters that the federal government recovered $3 billion in fiscal 2010 from settlements of False Claims Act cases. The DOJ only picked up more civil fraud claims in 2006, when $3.2 billion was recovered.
He said the Obama administration’s dedication to combating fraud in the health care industry and in federal programs was instrumental in bringing one of the largest annual civil fraud recoveries in U.S. history.
“Resolving cases requires individuals to engage in negotiation and to do so with the intent of holding people accountable so cases can be resolved and settled in a whole number of ways,” West said. “I think the fact that we’ve been successful in settling these cases for record amounts, resolving these cases for record amounts as well as opening more investigations, more cases in the last two years than we have previously shows this administration’s commitment to not only health care fraud, but fraud more generally.”
Attorney General Eric Holder and the other top DOJ leaders have made efforts to root out swindlers — especially fraudsters in the health care industry — a top priority. The DOJ brought in its largest annual health care recovery in U.S. history during fiscal 2010, securing $2.5 billion in health care fraud settlements.
In May 2009, Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius launched the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team to improve cooperation between the Department of Health and Human Service and the DOJ on criminal and civil enforcement matters.
The DOJ resolved high-profile cases in fiscal 2010 against AstraZeneca and Pfizer Inc., which were accused of promoting the drugs they manufactured for off-label purposes.
AstraZeneca paid the federal government $302 million to resolve the claims against it. Pfizer paid $669 million. But Pfizer had to pay a total of $2.3 billion in fines, damages and forfeitures, making the agreement the largest health care settlement in U.S. history.
“I think our results both in the cases that we’ve resolved and the investigations that we’ve opened and the cases that we’ve brought indicate that we’re making good on that promise,” West said about DOJ’s focus on fighting fraud, especially in the health care industry.
West also noted DOJ efforts to settle claims of payment schemes involving government procurement contracts for the production of bullet-proof vests for law enforcement officials. In fiscal 2010, the DOJ secured a total of $11.74 million in settlements with manufacturers Lincoln Fabrics Ltd., Lincoln Textiles Inc and Aramark Company LLC.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who wrote legislation that bolstered the False Claims Act over the decades, applauded the fiscal 2010 recovery. He said his work on the False Claims Act has helped protect taxpayers and empower whistleblowers.
“This law is the most powerful tool in rooting out fraud against the federal treasury,” Grassley said. “Not only does the law help recover billions of taxpayer dollars, but it also deters untold more.”