by Ben Vernia | December 5th, 2012
On December 5, the Department of Justice announced that two defense contractors and their owners, based in Kentucky, have agreed to pay $6.25 in damages and forfeiture to settle allegations that they filed false statements and claims for small-business set-aside contracts. According to DOJ’s press release:
Kentucky-based Lusk Mechanical Contractors and Commonwealth Technologies, and their owners, Harry Lusk and Wendell Goodman, have agreed to pay $6.25 million to resolve allegations that they submitted false statements to the Small Business Administration and false claims to the Army, the Justice Department announced today.
Congress established the Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) program in 1997 to help inner cities and rural counties that have low household income and high unemployment, and whose communities have suffered from a lack of investment. Under the HUBZone program, small businesses that maintain their principal office in a designated HUBZone, and meet certain other requirements, can apply to the Small Business Administration (SBA) for certification as a HUBZone company. HUBZone companies can then use this certification to their advantage when bidding on government contracts.
Today’s settlement resolves allegations that Lusk Mechanical, Commonwealth Technology and their owners made, or caused to be made, false statements to the SBA to obtain certification as a HUBZone company, and then used this certification to wrongfully obtain Army contracts to build a courthouse in Fort Knox, Ky., and to complete maintenance and other repairs to Army facilities in Fort Knox. Specifically, the United States alleged that in February 2005, Commonwealth submitted an application to the SBA representing that it was a small business with its principal place of business in a designated HUBZone. In fact, Commonwealth allegedly operated out of Lusk Mechanical’s headquarters, which was not located in a HUBZone area. Commonwealth’s business office was identified on the application as 212 East Caroline Street, Irvington, Ky. The United States alleged that this location was nothing more than a vacant office space with no employees, and that Commonwealth’s application did not disclose that Wendell Goodman and Harry Lusk were, in fact, affiliated with Lusk Mechanical. At the time, Harry Lusk and his wife were the sole owners of Lusk Mechanical and Wendell Goodman was the chief executive officer of Lusk Mechanical. According to the United States’ allegations, neither Lusk nor Goodman disclosed in the application to the SBA that Commonwealth did not operate as an independent company, but instead shared facilities, equipment, personnel, insurance and bonding with Lusk Mechanical, nor did they inform the SBA about the financial relationship between Commonwealth and Lusk Mechanical. The United States alleged that, using the falsely obtained HUBZone certification, the companies obtained contracts from the Army that had been restricted to qualified HUBZone companies, in violation of the False Claims Act and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA).
Under the terms of the settlement, Commonwealth, Lusk Mechanical, Goodman, and Lusk have agreed to pay $3,741,739.96, and to forfeit $2,506,260.24 seized by federal agents from their bank accounts under a civil forfeiture action.
The case apparently arose from a Defense Criminal Investigative Service and SBA Inspector General investigation, rather than from a whistleblower, or qui tam complaint.