Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act
The Peach State Gets Tough on Fraud against the Government
Georgia’s Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act became effective on July 1, 2012. Georgia’s newest whistleblower law is not its first, but it is its most expansive. While an earlier Georgia law only protected government employee whistleblowers and, another, just pertained to Medicaid Fraud, the latest law allows any person with first-hand knowledge of fraud against the government occurring within the State’s counties, municipalities, school districts, hospital authorities, transit system (MARTA) and any political subdivisions, to be rewarded for coming forward with information which leads to the recovery of taxpayer dollars.
The new law largely mirrors the Federal False Claims Act which dates back to the Civil War. To date, the Department of Justice has recovered over $30 billion under the Federal False Claims Act with the assistance of credible whistleblowers, who receive 15-25% of the government’s recovery in an intervened case.
The Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act contains the same liability and damage provisions as the federal act. False claims presented to the government for payment must be submitted knowingly. However, knowing conduct also includes actions taken in deliberate ignorance or in reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the information. Damages may be trebled and civil penalties of not less than $5,500 and not more than $11,000 for each false or fraudulent claim may be imposed on fraudsters. Unique to Georgia’s Act, if the individual or company committing the fraud cooperates fully with the government and did not have actual knowledge of the fraud, the damages may only be doubled. The whistleblower’s attorney’s fees and expenses are also recoverable, if the case is successful.
Like the Federal False Claims Act, once the case is filed, it is placed under seal for 60 days to allow the government to conduct an investigation without the defendant’s knowledge. This 60 day time period may be extended with the consent of the court. Should the government decide to intervene in the case, it assumes control of the litigation, and the whistleblower, known as a relator, becomes a participant in the government’s case.
Should the government decline the case, the relator has the opportunity to continue to prosecute the case with his or her whistleblower attorney. The government still retains the option to intervene in the case at any time. Should the relator in a non-intervened case be successful, he or she will receive 25-30% of the total recovery.
Some other important features of Georgia’s Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act include:
- A requirement that a private person wishing to file an action obtain the written consent of the Attorney General. See O.C.G.A. § 23-3-122(b)(1).
- An anti-retaliation provision, which provides for job reinstatement, two times the amount of back pay, interest on the back pay, and compensation for any special damages including litigation costs and attorney’s fees. See O.C.G.A. § 23-2-122(l)(1)-(2). The retaliation action must be brought within three years of the retaliatory activity. Id. at § 23-2-122(l)(3).
- A relaxed pleading standard for fraud which explicitly does not require the relator to identify specific claims that result from the fraudulent conduct, but only facts, that if proven true, would create a “reasonable indication” that the Act was violated. See O.C.G.A. § 23-3-123(c).
As with the Federal False Claims Act, the person who comes forward first and with the best information gets the opportunity to be rewarded.
IF YOU HAVE INFORMATION CONCERNING FRAUD AGAINST ANY FACET OF THE GOVERNMENT OF GEORGIA, PLEASE CONTACT THE WHISTLEBLOWER LAWYERS AT LK AT (800) 315-3806, FOR A FREE CONSULTATION. WE HAVE A NATIONWIDE PRACTICE AND EXPERIENCE WITH PROVEN RESULTS.
IMPORTANT: If you believe you have evidence of fraud against the government, securities fraud, commodities fraud or IRS or New York State tax fraud, contact us for a free, confidential consultation by calling our 24/7 toll-free hotline at (800) 315-3806 or by submitting an email inquiry.
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