False Claims Act

18 U.S. Code § 287 - False, Fictitious or Fraudulent Claims

You could face serious criminal penalties if you make false claims against the government. 18 U.S.C. 287 makes it a federal offense to knowingly present a false or fraudulent claim against any United States agency. Under this law, a “false claim” refers to any demand for money or property made directly or through a third party.

Perhaps it was billing Medicare or Medicaid for services never provided or seeking reimbursement for fake business expenses.

It could also include filing for tax refunds based on false information or submitting inflated invoices to obtain government contracts.

18 U.S. Code § 287 - False, Fictitious or Fraudulent Claims
18 U.S.C. 287 makes submitting a false or fraudulent claim against the government a federal crime.

Notably, not all payment requests will qualify as a “claim,” such as when someone is simply seeking government benefits, such as food stamps. It must be related to an alleged debt or obligation the government owes.

To be exposed to criminal liability, the claim must be false or fraudulent, meaning it was based on information known to be untrue, or it intentionally conceals or omits material facts to deceive the government. In other words, there must be a specific intent to defraud.

Inflating a claim could sometimes be considered false, such as when a government contractor pads expenses or work hours on invoices, but minor or immaterial discrepancies will not violate Section 287.

Notably, false statements alone don't violate this law. Instead, there must be an actual claim for money or property. This means that lying on a form to get government benefits is not a crime, but submitting a form to collect benefits would be a false claim.

Any conspiring (two or more people) to violate section 287 carries the same maximum sentence as the underlying crime.

The government does not have to prove an actual false claim was made, rather only that there was an agreement to do so. Also, any attempts to violate this law can be penalized even if the claim was not eventually submitted.

False Claims Act - Explained

The federal government strictly enforces the False Claims Act because massive fraud threatens healthcare organizations.  Often, whistleblowers come forward to report alleged violations.

This statute makes submitting false, fictitious, or fraudulent claims a federal crime. It applies to individuals or businesses with a direct or indirect contract and pay for services from the United States government. This federal law imposes criminal liability on any person, company, or contractor who does the following;

  • knowingly submits, or causes to submit,
  • a false or fraudulent claim when they intended to receive payment from the federal government.

The crucial term “knowingly” could also mean failing to perform reasonable due diligence. 18 U.S.C. 287 only applies to false or fraudulent claims against the United States or any department or agency within the government. To convict you for violating this statute, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • You made a claim to the United States or a U.S. agency, and
  • The claim was false, fictitious, or fraudulent; and
  • You knew the claim was false, fictitious, or fraudulent; and
  • You acted with the intent to defraud.

What Does Federal Law Say?

18 U.S. Code 287 false, fictitious or fraudulent claims, says, “Whoever makes or presents to any person or officer in the civil, military, or naval service of the United States, or to any department or agency thereof, any claim upon or against the United States, or any department or agency thereof, knowing such claim to be false, fictitious, or fraudulent, shall be imprisoned not more than five years and shall be subject to a fine in the amount provided in this title.

Related 18 U.S. Code 286 conspiracy to defraud the Government concerning claims says, “Whoever enters into any agreement, combination, or conspiracy to defraud the United States, or any department or agency thereof, by obtaining or aiding to obtain the payment or allowance of any false, fictitious or fraudulent claim, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.

18 U.S. Code Chapter 15 Claims and services in matters affecting government has several other related federal laws, including the following:

  • 18 U.S.C. 285 - Taking or using papers relating to claims;
  • 18 U.S.C. 288 - False claims for postal losses;
  • 18 U.S.C. 289 - False claims for pensions;
  • 18 U.S.C. 290 - Discharge papers withheld by claim agent;
  • 18 U.S.C. 291 - Purchase of claims for fees by court officials;
  • 18 U.S.C. 292 - Solicitation of employment and receipt of unapproved fees concerning Federal employees' compensation

False Claims Act – Quick Facts

There are some essential quick facts related to 18 U.S. Code 287 false, fictitious, or fraudulent claims, such as the following:

  • This law is designed to criminalize the act of attempting to obtain money, goods, or services from the government using fraud.
  • The prosecutor must prove you knowingly intended to deceive the government to get payment you knew you weren't entitled to receive.
  • A reasonable good faith mistake for payment or a contract dispute involving the terms of price will not typically be prosecuted.
  • Federal false claims cases can involve a wide range of alleged activity.
  • The primary focus of the law is related to claims to receive money from the government when they are not entitled.
  • The primary terms in this federal law are “deception,” “fraud,” and “false representations" to obtain the money.”
  • A conviction carries up to five years in federal prison and a considerable fine.

What Are the Section 287 Penalties?

Applying the Federal Sentencing Guidelines is essential in 18 U.S.C. 287 false claims cases because the advisory guideline range will vary widely depending on the amount of money (amount loss) claimed against the government.

Notably, written guidelines calculate the loss amount as the total amount of intended loss rather than actual loss.

This means a claim for payment that was never paid can still hold the defendant responsible for the total amount of the claim, even for an enhanced offense level. The penalties include the following:

  • Maximum punishment is five years in federal prison;
  • Fines up to $250,000 for individuals or $500,000 for organizations;
  • Full restitution to the U.S. government;
  • Forfeiture of any property derived from proceeds of the false claims

What Are the Defenses to False Claims?

A federal criminal defense lawyer can use several possible strategies to a charge of 18 U.S.C. 287 false claims, such as the following:

  • Lack of knowledge or intent to defraud. Even if it can be established that you were not entitled to the money or services claimed against the government, there might still be an issue over whether you had a good faith belief you were entitled to payment; 
  • Mistaken about the terms of a government contract (good faith);
  • Negligently presented a claim demanding more money than owed;
  • Entrapment or government misconduct;
  • Statute of limitations (generally five years).

Where the government relies on an informant or another unreliable source, the evidence could be suppressed to undermine the government's case through a motion to suppress before the District Court.

If you or a family member is under investigation or indicted for a false, fictitious, or fraudulent claim under Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 287, we can help you.

In the prefiling stage of the case, we might be able to negotiate a resolution with the government before the indictment, thus lowering the punishment. If necessary, our federal trial attorneys can litigate your matter in a jury trial to effectively present your innocence and attempt to obtain an acquittal. 

Whether pre or post-filing, you should contact our law firm for a free case evaluation to determine which options will give you the best chance for a successful outcome. The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, California.

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