Will our client, Zoltan Barati and the people of the State of Florida, get their day in court? In this case Florida’s whistleblower statute and the system is being turned on its head. The important question being decided is whether corruption will be given a loophole to escape responsibility.
Qui tam/False Claims Act/Whistleblower laws were created to protect the government so we, the taxpayers, won’t get ripped off easily. These laws give rights and incentives to insiders who do the right thing by turning in anyone responsible if they learn about corruption and/or fraud. In a qui tam lawsuit that person is called the relator. The laws are balanced and permit the government to take charge and prosecute the case before the realtor (the whistleblower) can act alone. If the government passes up their opportunity to prosecute the case, then the relator is given the rights and responsibility to bring the lawsuit without the government’s help. That is a huge and heavy burden. Doing the right thing takes a lot of time and commitment. Once this happens the government must allow the relator to finish the case. In Florida, the government can only re-enter the case at a later time by showing good cause why they want to get back in. Usually, the “good cause” is because the government comes to realize the significance of the fraud and wants to prosecute. “Good cause” should not be used to dismiss a valid case and give a free pass to those responsible for the fraud! That is what Florida’s Attorney General’s (AG) office wants to do in this case.
In our claim, former Motorola engineer, Zoltan Barati, brought a case on behalf of the State of Florida against Motorola for selling Florida law enforcement an electronic fingerprint system that didn’t work as effectively as it was required to do by the contract. Our client, Barati, is a highly trained engineer that was hired by Motorola in 1995 and was then promoted in 2004 to principal staff software engineer. Having helped design the fingerprint system and being familiar with the contract agreements, Barati recognized the company was not adhering to their contract with the Federal Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). In 2008 he became dismayed that Motorola was not sharing internal tests showing critical system failures (which the contract had required), and after speaking to his supervisors about the issue, they transferred him off the project. In 2009 Barati was fired from the company.
The AG’s office decided they did not want to bring the action and turned it back to Barati. Barati sued Motorola on behalf of the people of Florida to get back the money on the contract. This all happened at the beginning of the contract. Since that time the electronic fingerprint system has literally failed. The automatic fingerprints identification system (AFIS) searches a database for both criminal and civilian fingerprints. With this system’s ability to match and compare fingerprints working incorrectly, there is a greater risk of inaccurate results and fingerprints being missed. This can cause negative effects on employer criminal background checks and essentially make it harder for police officers trying to identify suspects. During the two years of testing, the program did not meet the accuracy rates that the FDLE had required in the contract. This meant that the system is potentially missing hundreds of fingerprints a day and would drastically slow down police work. These test issues were documented and filed by the engineers but were never shared with FDLE and are still the same issues they face today… five years later.
Florida has been required to pump millions of dollars each year into fixing the electronic fingerprint system beyond normal upkeep and updates. This brings us to a current total $11.3 million! Literally the fixes have more than doubled the price of the system. This year alone the AG’s office is asking for more than $2 million fix the system, yet again.
Now, after years of litigation, Florida’s Attorney General, Pam Bondi, is trying to force Barati to dismiss the lawsuit. But why? Florida and the state’s taxpayers would benefit financially if Motorola is found to have defrauded the FDLE. Florida would get back millions of dollars, so what motivation is causing her office to work so hard to protect Motorola? (Which, interestingly enough doesn’t even own the product anymore!) I’m not going to concentrate on why the government is behaving this way. Their actual motivation is speculative and is fit for a future that is built for a TV movie.
The bigger question here is whether the entire process of whistleblower/qui tam suits will now fail without government intervention. The law was set up to create a method for insiders to disclose fraud and corruption, and to protect taxpayer dollars. In the recent past literally billions of dollars of qui tam case money has been returned to the government. The qui tam laws allow the government to protect itself when the government finds out about the fraud. However, the law goes an important step further because it allows private citizens to protect the government when the government decides not to protect itself. This last part is imperative! Government corruption can be pervasive and widespread. Lobbyists and private corporations already have far too much power. If they are able to use their influence to stop qui tam lawsuits then the entire system has failed. Only by allowing private citizens to bring these actions can the system really work. Without that right, the corruption loophole is huge.
At this point, we must wait for the judges to determine Barati’s rights. We all anxiously await the decision.