The decision, by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., reverses a decision that had put a chill on what are believed to be dozens of pending whistle-blower cases involving contractors in Iraq. The earlier decision set aside a jury’s verdict in 2006 that the contractor, Custer Battles, must pay about $10 million in damages and penalties to the United States government and two whistle-blowers.Custer Battles left "an astonishing spreadsheet" that detailed billing at grossly inflated prices at a meeting in October of 2003. Big oops.
The jury had found that under the False Claims Act, Custer Battles filed fake invoices and vastly inflated its costs, as two former employees of the company had charged. But the judge in the case, T. S. Ellis III of the Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., ultimately made two rulings that would have freed the company from paying any damages.
By Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, April 11, 2009
The ruling noted that after an October 2003 meeting between Custer Battles's co-owners, Scott Custer and Michael Battles, and representatives of the CPA and the U.S. military, Battles accidentally left behind "an astonishing spreadsheet" that listed amounts invoiced and actual costs. For instance, the firm provided two flatbed trucks to carry new money that cost $18,000, while billing the authority $80,000, the ruling said.