The Legal Insider
In this issue:
Get Rich with Whistleblower Rewards
If you work for a company that routinely deals with the government, it might be beneficial to keep an eye on just how honestly your company is conducting their business. If your company has engaged in fraudulent practices with regards to their government business, you could be in for a big payday if you bring the fraud to the attention of the authorities.
False Claims Act
The False Claims Act is a federal law that imposes liability and penalties on persons and companies that defraud government programs. In order to bring fraudulent practices to light, the False Claims Act includes a provision that rewards successful whistleblowers up to one-third of the total recovery. Considering that the US government has recovered nearly $40 billion between 1987 and the present day, there are significant rewards being paid out to whistleblowers.
Most Common Whistleblower Industries
Under the provisions of the False Claim Act, any company conducting business with the government can be liable for submitting fraudulent claims for payment. However, the subjects that show up most often in whistleblower cases are Medicare claims, Department of Defense contracts, and government shipping and transportation contracts.
For example, because hospital and healthcare facilities are routinely submitting claims to the government for Medicare reimbursement, there may be incentives to falsify records in order to receive more reimbursement than the hospital or provider is due. If your employer is submitting false claims to the government and receiving more reimbursement than they are entitled, they have violated the False Claims Act.
How to Proceed If You Are a Whistleblower
If you believe that your company might be defrauding the government, it is important that you consider the appropriate steps before officially “blowing the whistle” on your employer.
- Keep records of personal emails and any evidence of false claims.It is important that you have solid records of any ongoing fraudulent claims in order to bolster your allegations of wrongdoing.
- Keep your allegations private until you are ready to file a lawsuit. If evidence of the fraud becomes public before you file your lawsuit (i.e. it is in the newspapers), you will lose your ability to receive an award. Even if the government pursues claim and penalizes your company, the government only rewards whistleblowers that bring claims of fraud that are not common knowledge to the general public.
- Contact an attorney.Once you have compiled some concrete evidence of the fraud, it is important that you contact an experienced whistleblower lawyer. Being a whistleblower is a very stressful experience, and hiring a lawyer who has navigated this process before will give you the best chance at recovering your reward.
Recreational Marijuana Laws in 2014
With the 2014 mid-term elections over, the media is focused on the Senate. However, the elections also doubled the number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana. In these states, marijuana is treated like alcohol:
- Colorado – Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. It is legal to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and to cultivate up to 6 plants for personal use, provided that you are 21 years of age or older. Possession over the legal limit is punishable as a misdemeanor.
- Washington – Washington became the second state to legalize marijuana in 2013. In Washington State, it is legal for someone 21 years or older to possess up to 16 ounces of marijuana or 72 ounces of marijuana in infused liquids, such as soda or alcohol. It is also legal to produce, process, or sell marijuana provided that you have the correct licenses.
- Oregon – Oregon became the third state to legalize recreational marijuana when Measure 91 passed. After July 1, 2015, adults 21 years or older can legally possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana at home or 1 ounce of marijuana in public. Licenses to sell marijuana will be available beginning in 2016.
- Alaska – Alaska’s Supreme Court actually decriminalized marijuana in 1975, but Measure 2 will codify legalization of marijuana into law. The new law won’t take effect until next year, but marijuana will be legal to purchase, sell, possess, transport, and cultivate. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will create specific numbers, but marijuana in Alaska, like the other states, will be available only to adults 21 years and older.
- Washington D.C. – Voters in the nation’s capital approved a proposal that would allow a person 21 years or older to possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use and to grow up to 6 plaints in their home. However, Congress has the authority to override any proposal passed by voters in the district, so it’s still uncertain whether marijuana will be legal in the shadow of the federal government's marijuana laws.
Identify Potential Lawsuits on Your Property
Property owners have a duty to make sure that there are no dangerous structures or conditions on their property that could harm visitors. Timely repairs or replacements can prevent injury and reduce the property owner’s exposure to legal liability.
Some factors that can help you to identify dangerous property structures include:
- Wear and Tear: Focus on structures that receive a lot of wear and tear due to exposure to elements or heavy traffic. These can include stairs, roofs, porch/deck flooring, and other similar structures.
- Falling Objects: Watch for structures that may present a danger of falling objects, such as displays, balconies, overhanging eaves, tool sheds, etc. In particular, falling objects that contain sharp edges, dangerous chemicals, or heated surfaces should be carefully secured.
- Structural Damage: A more in-depth search might reveal hidden factors such as termite damage, mold damage, or similar factors that might weaken support. Oddly enough, some structures might be damaged due to lack of use (for instance, an unused structure that no one really maintains and starts developing rust or other damaging processes).
- Contact an expert: Hire an expert appraiser or safety personnel if you have any specific concerns. Don’t hesitate to contact a lawyer if you have any legal issues involving injuries caused by a dangerous structure.
Note that premises liability laws can vary widely depending on the state. The amount of care that a property owner needs to apply when identifying and correcting dangerous structures may depend on the type of property involved as well as the type of visitor. You can contact a personal injury lawyer if you have any specific questions or concerns.
How Petty Crime Can Result in a Life Sentence
Timothy Jackson is currently serving life without parole in Louisiana’s Angola prison. His crime? Jackson shoplifted a jacket worth $159. Life without parole seems a little excessive given that the statutory punishment for that type of theft is six months in jail. These are the factors and laws that could lead a court to sentence a man to life without parole for a petty crime such as shoplifting:
- Persistent Offender Laws – Many states, including Louisiana and California, mandate state courts to impose harsh sentences on offenders who commit multiple felonies and/or violent crimes. These laws are also known as “three-strike” penalties.
- Classification of Crimes – Most persistent offender laws turn on the number of felonies and/or violent crimes that the defendant has committed. Many crimes that the public believes are misdemeanors and/or non-violent are in fact violent or felonies that could lead to harsher penalties. These “violent crimes” include burglary, even when the homeowners are absent.
- Arbitrary Numbers – If a law makes shoplifting property worth $200 or more a felony, the meaning of that law seems pretty clear. However, prosecutors may argue that the property is worth more than the retail value, thereby turning a misdemeanor into a felony.
- Drug Offenses – Mandatory minimum drug sentences put the most petty drug offenses into federal prison. Horror stories include selling $10 worth of crack cocaine to an undercover officer, disturbing LSD to concertgoers, and possessing cocaine amounts so small that only lab tests could detect that drugs were present.
- Homelessness – State and local legislators have historically found many creative ways of criminalizing homelessness without necessarily spending any resources addressing the homeless problem. New laws against homelessness include criminalizing sleeping in vehicles and giving out food in public.