False Claims Act Defense
Corporations and individuals who are the subject of a federal investigation need a lawyer with sound judgment informed by years of experience addressing the unique challenges of the False Claims Act.
For eleven years, Ben Vernia led complex investigations for the U.S. Department of Justice. From 1994 to 2002, Ben was a Trial Attorney in the Fraud Section of the Civil Division. As a Trial Attorney, he received first-chair responsibility in dozens of cases. Most of these matters involved parallel criminal and civil proceedings; all were complex cases requiring the rapid assessment of both a difficult factual terrain and the key legal obligations imposed by regulations or government contracts.
Ben served as lead counsel or co-first chair in multi-week trials while in the Fraud Section. In dozens more, he drafted and filed complaints, conducted discovery, and reached settlements, often after extensive mediation or mini-trials. He has filed or defended countless motions, conducted well over one hundred twenty False Claims Act depositions (including many under the Act's Civil Investigative Demand provision), and reviewed and organized large collections of electronic and paper records.
As an attorney in the Department's Criminal Division, Ben was given principal responsibility for the most significant cases in the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. While there, he led grand jury investigations, employing document and testimonial subpoenas, search warrants, Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty Requests, and interviews. He worked with agents from the FBI, the Bureau of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and numerous state and local law enforcement agencies. He coordinated simultaneous takedowns of suspects, premises searches, and the seizure and analysis of personal computers and Internet-based servers.
In eight years of private practice after his government service, Ben has worked on cutting-edge, bet-the-company investigations and settlements. He brings to clients a first-hand knowledge of the federal investigative process, and experience on dozens of criminal, civil and parallel cases.
Ben has worked on False Claims Act cases whose combined valued exceeds $2.5 billion - from small, $100,000 cases to the largest fraud recovery in U.S. history. In addition, he has conducted extensive investigations in a large number of additional matters.
Ben Vernia has worked on matters involving:
- The Department of Health and Human Services
- The Department of Defense
- The Department of State
- The Department of Education
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development
- The Department of Transportation
- The Department of Energy
- The Government Accountability Office
- The Export-Import Bank
He worked closely with these agencies’ Inspector General agents, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Health and Human Services, and every branch of the Armed Forces.
The Need for a False Claims Act Focus
Clients who have never experienced a False Claims Act investigation or lawsuit soon learn that the government's approach to investigating, litigating and settling these matters bears little similarity to that of an ordinary civil dispute. Ben's experiences with the Act and the government enable him to identify potential challenges and opportunities early, to explain the options, their costs and benefits, and to steer clear of expensive and counterproductive strategies.
False Claims Act clients also need a lawyer capable of defending both criminal and civil charges from the outset of an investigation. In dozens of cases, Ben Vernia has played each of these indispensable roles:
- Criminal defense— tracking and countering a government criminal investigation, and if necessary handling the defense at trial of a variety of complex criminal allegations that companies and officers are likely to confront, including fraud, false claims, conspiracy, RICO, and money laundering.
- Civil defense— leading teams of paralegals, investigators, and attorneys to mount a defense in cases involving complex legal and factual issues; representing investigative subjects before government agencies, in mediation and arbitration, in discovery and at trial.
- Corporate compliance— working with clients to deploy best practices in procurement, performance, and billing, to assist clients who do not yet face an investigation to avoid one; helping clients under investigation to adopt policies which communicate to the government and public their commitment to corporate integrity.
- Internal investigations— leading investigations to determine the nature and extent of a company’s civil and criminal exposure, and to craft a strategy to avoid or minimize damage to the company’s bottom line and reputation.
- A medical device distributor against kickback allegations under Medicare's Civil Monetary Penalty Law.
- The Chief Operating Officer of a diagnostic imaging company, personally accused in a qui tam suit against the company.
- Pharmaceutical companies and their employees in the investigation and defense of over a dozen False Claims Act qui tam suits and related criminal investigations.
- A sales representative for a medical device company in a grand jury investigation of off-label promotion of the company's devices.
- Three ambulance companies in defending an unusual "reverse" False Claims Act suit by the federal government.
- Pharmaceutical and medical device companies in the negotiation and implementation of Corporate Integrity Agreements.
- A construction executive who testified against a defendant in an extortion trial, in the successful defense of a suspension and proposed debarment by the Department of Transportation.
- A major American importer in an internal investigation of allegations of falsification of customs documents.
- Managers of a home health care company identified as targets of a federal grand jury investigation of alleged Medicaid fraud.
Speeches and Publications
- "Whistleblowers face tough legal hurdles, but US Supreme Court may offer relief, says False Claims Act expert," Association of Certified Financial Crimes Specialists (podcast)
- www.falseclaimscounsel.com – A legal blog covering the False Claims Act and related statutes (2009-present)
- "False Claims Act Update," Covington & Burling LLP Podcasts (2008)
- "Negotiating Corporate Integrity Agreements in Case Settlements," Symposium on Health Care Fraud Investigations, American Conference Institute, Washington, DC (3/31/2008)