Trucking company that moves soldiers accused of bilking government

A major trucking company and an affiliate have been accused of making false claims about the weight of belongings of military personnel.

In today's current era, where the federal government has contracted out so many services to private companies, whistleblower lawsuits are an invaluable tool, Harpootlian said.

"This allows citizens who know of wrongdoing to bring it to federal government's attention and recoup money lost as a result of illegal conduct," he said.

The scheme was carried out in several ways, according to the lawsuit. Some accurate weight certificates were replaced by false certificates and, in some cases, the accurate weight was "whited-out" and a new, false weight was inserted, the suit alleges.

Since 2001, with the U.S. deploying numerous armed forces around the world, the U.S. government has spent large amounts of money moving the belongings of U.S. service personnel and their families from base to base, both in-country and overseas.

"This constant relocation of U.S. service personnel comes at great cost to the U.S. and its taxpayers, who pay these relocation costs," the lawsuit says.

Under Department of Defense regulations, the private companies who ship the belongings bill the government "based upon the net weight of a shipment as determined by a certified scale and weigh master," the lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, trucking company movers go to a service person's home, "pack their furniture and personal belongings into large, wooden shipping crates and load the crates onto trucks." Then the crates are sealed.

When the trucks arrive at the shipping warehouse, the crates are removed, weighed, and a weight certificate stating the weight is put on the crate, the lawsuit said.

"The higher the net weight of a shipment, the more money is charged to the government for the shipment," the lawsuit says.

Then, the crate is shipped to its destination, and the trucking companies send the government a bill, along with a certification that the weight is accurate.

The lawsuit said government agents now are auditing records at the Augusta warehouse and already have uncovered 437 examples of possibly falsified weight certificates.

The lawsuit doesn't name a dollar amount it seeks but says it seeks damages and civil penalties. Each separate violation carries a civil penalty of up to $11,000, plus damages. If those 437 examples do indeed violate the law, that would be at least $4 million.

Columbia attorney Harris said his trucking company clients have a good reputation to defend. For years, he said, they and affiliated companies have been national leaders in transporting millions of shipments for private, corporate and public interests.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said the suit is part of increased attention his office is devoting to false claims cases. He has doubled the number of lawyers to four from two and given the unit increased resources, including an investigator, he said.

"Pursuing whistleblower allegations is one of my top priorities," Nettles said. "Our aim is to take the profit out of defrauding the government."

The next likely step in the case is for Judge Anderson to rule on whether the government's case should go forward or be dismissed.

Copyright 2014 - The State (Columbia, S.C.)

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