The Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) has agreed to pay the U.S. $4.08 million to resolve allegations made by a whistleblower under the False Claims Act that it intentionally misused the federal education funds it received.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Phoenix, Arizona-based MCCCD received funds from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), an independent federal agency that administers the AmeriCorps program and other national service programs.
MCCCD received the AmeriCorps funding for Project Ayuda, a program designed to help engage students in national service. To be eligible for the CNCS funds, students must meet certain service-hour requirements.
However, former MCCCD employee Christine Hunt alleged in her whistleblower lawsuit that MCCCD was improperly certifying that student candidates for the funding had completed the required number of service hours when they had not. Ms. Hunt’s complaint claimed that MCCCD falsely certified the ineligible students so that they could earn one of the federally funded education awards.
Additionally, the complaint alleged that MCCCD improperly received grant funds from CNCS to administer the Project Ayuda program. Both the false certifications and the administrative funding amounted to the submission of false claims, the lawsuit contended.
“Those who receive federal funds must deal with the government openly and honestly,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will ensure that financial assistance provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service is received only by eligible individuals who satisfy CNCS’s mission of promoting service and education.”
“Taxpayers are justifiably outraged when a community fails to receive promised services because national service funds were misused,” said CNCS’s Inspector General Deborah Jeffrey. “We hope that this settlement will deter other grantees from similar misconduct.”
Ms. Hunt filed her complaint under the qui tam whistleblower provisions of the federal False Claims Act, which authorizes private individuals to sue on behalf of the U.S. government when they possess evidence of fraud committed against federal agencies and programs. In return, whistleblowers receive up to 30 percent of any recovery the Justice Department makes as a result of the complaint. The Justice Department said that Ms. Hunt will receive is $775,827 as her reward in exposing MCCCD’s wrongdoing.