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Cuccinelli Investigates Grant Fraud at the University of Virginia

The D.C. Examiner has a story today about Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issuing a Civil Investigative Demand (“CID”) to the University of Virginia as part of an investigation into grant fraud.  You can read Bill Flook’s excellent story here.

The story also has a quote from state Sen. Chap Peterson (D-Fairfax) about the CID, which he called “very grasping.”  Peterson goes on to say:

“He has a constitutional duty to represent the state, [to] represent the taxpayer.  A lot of this just seems to me agenda-driven.”  

First, the purpose of the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act (Va. Code 8.01-216.1 et seq.) is to protect our public fisc from false claims on our tax dollars.  Anyone who submits a false claim for the government money is damaging the Commonwealth, regardsless of the politics.

Second, there are a great many of us taxpayers that feel like policing the use of state grant money IS representing the taxpayer.  A certain percentage of scientists and other researchers–brace yourself, folks–do make false statements and false records in association with government grant money. 

Such false claims can arise in any number of ways, including a good many of which Dr. Michael Mann is suspected.  This is not a novel use of a federal or state False Claims Act–much to the contrary, false claims and fraud in association with government grants is very much a bread and butter false claims act case.   

There is absolutely, positively, nothing controversial about issuing a CID to a researcher who is suspected of making false statements and/or false records in order to get government grants. This is a very, very common type of False Claims Act violation, and General Cuccinelli can–and should–be investigating the use of the Commonwealth’s grant money.  

General Cuccinelli, in his official capacity as Attorney General of the Commonwealth, issued this CID when he believed that a researcher was making (or had made) false claims and/or false records in association with state grant money. 

But he is not the only with the power to take action–under the qui tam provisions of the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, any individual with first-hand, personal knowledge of false claims or fraud in relation to a state (or for that matter federal) grant also has the power to hire a private attorney (that is, one with experience in this area of law) and initiate a case. 

The law sets forth a very specific procedure, and also creates potentially very lucrative rewards–the damages to the state are multiplied times three, and the individual (in these cases, the individual is usually called a “relator”) can collect anywhere from 15% to 30% of the total damages to the state. 


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