One of the truly great things about being a
whistleblower lawyer is that you are always getting to learn something completely different,
something completely outside the law practice.
Take today. Today I learned something about the polling industry.
It started when I read an NPR article,
Polling Firm Gallup Lands in Legal Hot Water, about a whistleblower who has filed a False Claims Act lawsuit against
Gallup. I’m used to the idea that fraud knows no industry boundaries.
In fact, one of the things I really like about being a whistleblower’s
lawyer is the challenge of always learning a new industry. But if fraud
has no boundaries, the False Claims Act does, and one of them is that
the FCA only addresses fraud against the Government. I was baffled as
to just how and why Gallup came to have a contract with the U.S. Government.
Certainly I have heard of the Gallup Organization and the polls it takes
– everyone has. And if you are like me, you wonder just who it is
who gives all those opinions, because certainly no one ever calls me!
As you can tell from that comment, I always associated polling with elections,
politicians, and political issues.
Apparently that notion is way out-of-date. Today the political polls are
just the smallest part of what has become a huge industry. Companies –
and even the government – use polling to find out what consumers
would like in a product. Polls are now a major form of marketing and product
development. Even the Government is now in on the action, and apparently
has a number of contracts with Gallup for the company to do polling research
on governmental matters.
The whistleblower in this case worked for Gallup, and he accused Gallup
of defrauding the Government on two important contracts, one with the
U.S. Mint and the other with the State Department. The U.S. Mint had hired
the Gallup Organization to conduct polling about the public’s demand
for new coins, and the State Department hired Gallup to do polling about
what the public wanted with American passports.
According to the whistleblower’s lawsuit, Gallup overcharged the
U.S. Mint and the State Department for the public research it was doing.
The Justice Department says that when Gallup submitted estimates for the
work it was going to do, the estimates were inflated.
According to NPR, the United States and Gallup are in talks now to see
whether they can settle the False Claims Act suit brought by the whistleblower.
If they do, the whistleblower will get a percentage of what the Government
collects from Gallup.
Apparently these two contracts are not the only ones that Gallup has with
the Government, nor are they the only two that have landed Gallup in hot
water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has accused the company
of “a lack of business honesty or integrity.” Gallup has been
suspended, meaning that it will not be allowed to win any Government contracts
for a time. A former FEMA official, Timothy Cannon, has pleaded guilty
to steering $ 1,000,000 in contracts to Gallup – in exchange for
the promise of a job with Gallup when he left FEMA. Cannon’s sentencing
is set for April. Meanwhile, the Government has suspended Gallup from
any government contracts, and Gallup is fighting to get the suspension removed.