On June 3, 2020, the DOJ (Department of Justice) published a press release detailing the U.S.’s involvement in a lawsuit against AECOM, an L.A-based architecture, and engineering firm initiated by a qui tam whistleblower lawsuit. The whistleblower, an AECOM Project Specialist Robert Romero who originally filed the qui tam complaint against AECOM, received a $2.3 million award for his disclosure.
The DOJ reports that AECOM “received more than $300 million from FEMA between 2005 and 2019 as a technical assistance contractor” as part of FEMA’s disaster response and plan for recovery from Hurricane Katrina. AECOM had on-the-ground responsibilities: their work consisted of evaluating sites and making “damage and repair estimates” to determine if applicants could take advantage of the Public Assistance (PA) program. Their reports were supposed to provide FEMA “with truthful, accurate information regarding each family’s pre-disaster design and all damage” caused by the hurricane.
The DOJ alleges that AECOM “knowingly submitting false claims on behalf of applicants seeking PA program funds.” The fraud was conducted by AECOM “using inflated repair estimates and other false information that improperly increased funding” for applicants of the PA program. some individual applicants allegedly signed off on these erroneous and statements, which will also be liable for the false claims that AECOM submitted. The fraud allegations cover actions that occurred between 2007 through 2013. The DOJ reports that the lawsuit also alleges that “by 2011, AECOM management was aware of systemic problems concerning the provision of false and inaccurate information to FEMA but failed to notify the government.”
The press release also states that the Xavier University of Louisiana is one of the recipients of the PA program through an assessment by AECOM. The university will pay the U.S. $12 million “to resolve its alleged role in the submission of false and misleading repair estimates prepared by AECOM on its behalf.” The government is alleging that Xavier used the PA program money “for its gymnasium, student center, and electrical grid,” and that this money was much more than they qualified for under the PA program’s rules. As part of Xavier’s settlement, the university “has agreed to cooperate with the department’s investigation of other parties and any related litigation.”