The Federal Government Takes Over Utah Whistleblower Grants Lawsuit

The Federal Government Takes Over Utah Whistleblower Grants Lawsuit

A whistleblower suit filed by an inmate has landed the State of Utah in hot water with the federal government. The state is accused of lying and making false statements in order to obtain millions of dollars of government grants. Now, the federal government has taken over the lawsuit as it proceeds through the court system. In any event, the lawsuit exposes a pattern of conduct that, if true, reflects poorly on a governmental entity that receives tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

States are able to apply to the federal government for criminal justice grants, There are several grant programs administered by the Department of Justice that fund state prisons and other juvenile programs. One major criminal justice grant program is called JAG-ARRA. This program was started by the Recovery Act of 2009 in an attempt to save criminal justice jobs that would have been eliminated by struggling states. Funds under this program are given to states that then distribute the money to local entities. It one of the primary ways that the federal government funds the state prison systems.

The Original Lawsuit Was Brought by a Prisoner

Reginald Williams has been serving a prison sentence in Utah for more than three decades after having been convicted of a sexual assault that occurred back in 1987. Williams' job in prison is in the prison print shop. There, he had the opportunity to observe state employees and what they did during the grant application process.

Williams claims to have observed firsthand numerous instances of misconduct when it comes to the grant application process. The lawsuit claims that 37 state employees, including the executive director of the corrections system, each made false statements on grant applications as part of a scheme to obtain more money for the state. Utah allegedly conspired to obtain these grants despite the fact that the state was not facing a fiscal crisis that would have led to the elimination of any jobs. Instead, the state is accused of applying for and taking federal funds that were used to replace state money that was already appropriated for use in the prisons.

The lawsuit claims that Williams filed a grievance through the prison grievance system after witnessing this alleged conduct. The prisoner claims that he was fired from his job in the prison print shop in retaliation for his grievance complaint and, as a result, he lost his earnings. His yearly earnings in the print shops were $2,500.

The federal government has been investigating Utah's conduct for several years. The government claims that the state has been stonewalling the investigation and has delayed producing the requested documents. Federal investigators have sought to obtain a subpoena to force Utah to turn over the documents.

The Prisoner May Be Able to Profit from the Lawsuit that He Initiated

Whistleblowers have the ability to bring lawsuits under their own. One of two things can happen. The whistleblower can litigate the suit through its conclusion or the federal government can take over the lawsuit. The initial suit is brought in the name of the federal government but federal attorneys have the ability to assume control of the suit if they file a new complaint. This is exactly what has happened here. Usually, the federal government will only take over a lawsuit if there is some merit to the claims.

If the lawsuit is ultimately successful, the original plaintiff in the lawsuit will receive a percentage of the federal government's recovery. The law that allows this is intended to encourage people to come forward and bring whistleblower lawsuits because it enables the federal government to recover money that was wrongfully taken from it. Williams, as a prisoner serving a life sentence, can still be in line for a portion of the settlement if the lawsuit is successful.

The lawsuit has recently been unsealed, alerting the public to its existence. Now, the federal government has until mid-April to file its own complaint in the matter as it is the new plaintiff. The initial lawsuit as filed seeks $50 million in damages from the state. While the amount that the state improperly obtained was lower than that, the lawsuit was filed under the False Claims Act which allows for triple damages to be obtained from the defendant if they made any false claims that resulted in payment from the federal government such as the ones that Utah allegedly made.

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