After countless hours of research, legwork and perseverance, a small law firm in Fairfax has managed to entice the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in its lawsuit against a Reston company accused of fraudulently providing unqualified personnel under a $10 million contract with the federal government to provide trained security guards at an Iraqi airbase.
The original complaint alleges that Reston-based private security firm Triple Canopy Inc. was awarded a one-year, $10 million government contract to provide security services at the Al Asad Airbase in Iraq, the second largest U.S. airbase in the country.
The lawsuit was filed in March 2011 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria on behalf of a former Triple Canopy employee; Omar Badr.
“Badr is a decorated Army veteran who received a Bronze Star and who actually spent some time at Al Asad as an employee at Triple Canopy,” said Milt Johns of Fairfax-based law firm Day & Johns, PLLC.
Under the federal False Claims Act, Day & Johns sought to bring in the Department of Justice into the lawsuit as a plaintiff.
“We are extremely pleased the Department of Justice, after thoroughly investigating the claims, has intervened in this case,” Johns said. “The alleged misconduct is a serious case of a government contractor putting our U.S. military personnel and allied personnel at risk.”
The newly filed federal complaint — now with the United States of America listed as plaintiff — was filed Oct. 25 and alleges that Triple Canopy knowingly billed the United States for hundreds of Ugandan foreign nationals it hired as security guards who could not meet firearms proficiency tests established by the Army and required under the contract.
Court documents state the weapons proficiency tests ensure that security guards hired to protect U.S. and allied personnel are capable of firing AK-47 assault rifles and other weapons safely and accurately.
Johns said it is not unusual for security contractors to recruit from other nations.
“Ugandans are paid very little and are often very eager to cooperate with security contractors,” he said. “There are other contractors who use foreign nationals from Malaysia, Fiji and Peru.”
But Johns said that in this particular case, the Ugandans hired by Triple Canopy not only did not qualify as “marksmen” on a U.S. Army qualification course as noted on their documentation, but many did not even have basic weapons proficiency.
“Some didn’t even know how to load their weapons,” he said. “Others know nothing about sight patterns or how to properly aim at targets.”
The complaint also alleges that Triple Canopy’s managers in Iraq falsified test scorecards as a cover-up to induce the government to pay for the unqualified guards, and that Triple Canopy continued to bill the government even after high-level officials at the company’s headquarters had been alerted to the misconduct. The complaint further alleges that Triple Canopy used the false qualification records in an attempt to persuade the government to award the company a second year of security work at the Al Asad Airbase.
“For a government contractor to knowingly provide deficient security services, as is alleged in this case, is unthinkable, especially in war time,” Stuart F. Delery, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, said in a statement. “The department will do everything it can to ensure that contractors comply with critical contract requirements and that contractors who don’t comply aren’t permitted to profit at the expense of our men and women in uniform and the taxpayers at home who support them.”
Johns said Triple Canopy has until December to respond to the allegations and that although his firm hopes for a settlement in the case, going to trial is a distinct possibility.
“We are a small litigation firm of six that has only been around for just over two years, but we are all seasoned trial attorneys with an average of 12-15 years experience,” he said. “One of our attorneys, Trey Mayfield, was an Assistant United States Attorney — and another, Chris Day, was an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney for Virginia.
A Triple Canopy spokesperson only would say in an email that “on advice of counsel, Triple Canopy is unable to comment due to pending litigation surrounding this matter.”