Columbia University agreed to pay $9 million this week in settlement of a SDNY False Claims Act case alleging that it had submitted false claims in connection with federal grants funding AIDS and HIV related work. Columbia was the grant administrator on behalf of ICAP, an entity that received millions of dollars in federal grants for support and services for HIV prevention and treatment. The government’s complaint alleged that the federal grants at issue required that recipients charge grants only for work actually performed as part of that grant. It further alleged that Columbia charged for work that was not devoted to the programs that grants funded, and did not have a suitable means of verifying that the employees actually performed the work charged to a particular grant.
A settlement was approved by the Court earlier this week. In keeping with the SDNY practice of requiring defendants to stipulate to an agreed statement of facts, Columbia admitted that ICAP allocated salaries and wages of employees among various grants without using a suitable means of verifying whether the charges were based on an employee’s actual effort for that grant. Columbia admitted that certain reports were inaccurate and for a number of years, ICAP mischarged grant agreements for work that was not allocable to them.
SDNY U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara made clear that the government will target not-for-profits, and a charitable intent will not allow potential defendants to avoid False Claims Act damages. After praising Columbia for its work combatting AIDS and HIV, Bharara said that “Grantees are required to use federal money for the purpose for which the grant was given and nothing else. … Educational institutions, like everyone else, should be held accountable.” Federal grant recipients must take care to ensure compliance with all the requirements of their grant agreements, or they could face treble damages and penalties under the False Claims Act.