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Money from a Medicaid fraud settlement will soon help the Fairfax County Police Department to purchase new robots for its bomb squad.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced last week that $33 million received from a Medicaid fraud settlement will go towards helping Virginia sheriffs, police chiefs, the state police, and other law enforcement departments statewide to receive new equipment and training.

The money is part of $115 million the attorney general’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit received from a 2012 fraud settlement with Abbott Labs. Virginia’s Medicaid fraud unit was the lead investigator in the $1.5 billion judgment, the second largest Medicaid fraud settlement in U.S. history. Abbott Laboratories illegally marketed its drug Depakote for uses not approved as safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration. On top of the restitution to the state’s Medicaid program, Cuccinelli’s office earned the $115 million in asset forfeiture funds for its work as lead investigator.

The funds will be used to provide training to School Resource Officers and SWAT teams; to provide new police cruisers, new computers and portable radios, bulletproof vests, training shooting ranges, night vision for finding missing people, and money for gang reduction programs.

As part of the statewide distribution of $33 million to law enforcement agencies, the Fairfax County Police Department received $775,770 to purchase, among other things, Nikon camera lenses, IT equipment for the department’s Major Crimes Division, and portable robots for its SWAT team and bomb squad.

“We are very grateful for the money,” said 2nd Lt. Andrew Wehrlen of the bomb squad. The 12-member squad consists of two full time technicians, six supplemental technicians and four K-9’s.

“My two full-time guys each have a portable Digital Vanguard ROV [Remotely Operated Vehicle] robot that can climb stairs, access confined spaces in homes and buildings, under vehicles, and can also gain access to airplanes, buses and trains,” said Wehrlen. “They weigh about 120 pounds and can be transported to just about anywhere in a car or truck.”

When originally purchased in 2006, Wehrlen said the two portable robots cost between $60,000 and $80,000 each. “They move at a top speed of about three miles per hour, have remote cameras with a range of several hundred yards and have ‘claws’ that can open a doorknob or even put a key in a lock,” said Wehrlen.

But according to bomb squad technician Bryan Cooke, the nearly 8-year-old robots are beginning to show their age. “I look at it like a cellphone,” Cooke said. “Can you imagine the differences in amenities between a new cell phone and one that is 8 years old?”

Cooke said the money from the Attorney General’s office will go towards purchasing two newer models, both costing more than $100,000, that will have thermal imaging and x-ray capabilities, as well as being able to go more than twice as fast and be able to navigate difficult terrain and rough surfaces better.

“The new robots will at first supplement the current ones,” said Wehrlen. “That will enable me to have two extra guys at the ready. Eventually, when parts are no longer available for the older models, the new robots will take their place.”

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com