Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Whistleblower claims stay alive in lawsuit

By James McNair
Enquirer staff writer

A lawsuit alleging that a Northern Virginia company overcharged the state of Ohio for a $95 million computer system it doesn't use has survived a legal challenge and will move on to evidence-gathering.

Four employees of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services filed the lawsuit in May 2002. They accused American Management Systems of Fairfax, Va., of gouging the department through false and excessive billings for a computer system that was supposed to streamline department operations, but which was abandoned by the state in 2002.

Thirty-seven of Ohio's 88 counties use the Integrated Client Management System, although not to the extent originally called for. Hamilton County chose not to participate in the system because it could not communicate well with other computer systems.

AMS, acquired by CGI Group of Montreal in May, asked that the claims be dismissed. It said the four whistleblowers were trying to cash in on the Ohio inspector general's widely publicized findings of mismanagement, shady contracting and ethics violations in what was then known as the Ohio Department of Human Services. The whistleblowers, it said, were not "original sources" of the allegations.

U.S. District Judge Sandra Beckwith disagreed. In a ruling filed Tuesday in Cincinnati, Beckwith said the inspector general's report and corresponding newspaper clippings cover a "different subject entirely. None provides even a hint of the allegations in the (plaintiffs') complaint."

Beckwith let stand the claims that AMS falsely billed the state and its federal welfare-reform budget for work that had nothing to with the computer system. Claims that AMS overcharged for its work also survived the challenge. Beckwith did, however, dismiss as too imprecise a claim that AMS billed the state for work it did not perform.

Cincinnati lawyer Rick Morgan, who represents the four state employees, said AMS' motion to dismiss was mostly unfounded.

Calls to AMS' lawyers in Cincinnati and Washington were not returned Tuesday.

The four Department of Job and Family Services workers are asking for trebled damages and fines of up to $11,000 for each proven false claim. They stand to receive 30 percent of any judgment or settlement.


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