Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Case of the Defective Mice

Every year, Jack Boese of Fried Frank offers a holiday story tied to a False Claims Act case to lighten things up.  This year's story is about the sale of mice to a federal laboratory that may not have met the government's usually impenetrable procurement standards.  Herewith is the story of the defective (?) mice:

On March 1, 2005, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland issued a press release, with a seriousness that only government press releases can bring to such announcements, reporting that an Indiana-based laboratory agreed to pay $7.2 million to settle a threatened FCA case alleging that the company – Harlan Spigue Dowley, Inc. – sold mice to the HHS National Institute for Aging that did not conform to Federal specifications. Many of us, familiar with detailed specifications for missiles or health care regulatory requirements, could not imagine "Federal specifications" for mice, but clearly they exist, and failing to comply with them can be quite expensive. According to a Washington Post article about the settlement, that $7.2 million "reimburses expenses for feeding and housing the mice . . . ." Those are some hungry mice!

As befits the season, the nice part about this "feel good" story is that everyone goes away happy (unlike last year’s sad tale, which resulted in an incarcerated beauty queen). The DOJ and HHS OIG got $7.2 million to add to their FCA recovery statistics. The laboratory got to deny liability and (we assume) continue to supply new mice to be used in scientific experiments. And the defective mice, because they are "nonconforming" and presumably useless for experiments, will apparently get to live and live well, since the DOJ got $7.2 million to "feed and house" them.

As always, we at FraudMail Alert leave you with a number of questions about this episode to ponder at those boring holiday parties:

1. Just what kind of food does the government feed its special mice? At $7.2 million, is it better then the buffet line at the holiday parties?

2. Who exactly investigates this kind of case? Do they get a "risibility bonus" if folks like us, who read about cases like this one, start to giggle?

3. Were 3 of the mice blind?

As has been the case in past years, FraudMail Alert applauds such efforts of the Department of Justice and other enforcement agencies. After all, without them, these annual holiday FraudMail Alerts would not be possible.

For those interested in earlier FraudMail Alerts, or to sign up to receive periodic e-mails about the latest issues in this area, check here.  Fried Frank's website is one of the best sources of information on the False Claims Act and related private actions. (ph)

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