On Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Leslie R. Caldwell spoke at the Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund annual conference in Washington D.C., and announced that the DOJ is closely examining civil False Claims Act lawsuits in order to find possible criminal cases. The DOJ published Caldwell’s remarks from the conference, run by a well-known nonprofit. If you represent government contractors, hospitals, other health care industry individuals and entities, or others involved in government programs, take note of this development and advise your clients accordingly.

Ms. Caldwell said that:

Today, I want to announce that we will be stepping up our use of one tool, and that is the fine work done by all of you in investigating and filing cases under the False Claims Act.

Through our Fraud Section, we will be committing more resources to this vital area, so that we can move swiftly and effectively to combat major fraud involving government programs.

(emphasis added).

She asked the audience, mostly members of the Plaintiff’s bar, to contact DOJ Criminal Division “[w]hen you are thinking of filing a qui tam case that alleges conduct that potentially could be criminal, I encourage you to consider reaching out to criminal authorities, just as you now do with our civil counterparts in the department and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices.” She noted that the DOJ Criminal Division has “unparalleled experience prosecuting health care fraud, procurement fraud, and financial fraud” and that they “will bring that expertise to bear by increasing our commitment to criminal investigations and prosecutions that stem from allegations in False Claims Act lawsuits.”

Ms. Caldwell emphasized all of the resources available to criminal prosecutors that might not be available to other enforcement agencies, including search warrants and wiretaps, consensual recordings, confidential informants.”

The announcement of the DOJ’s goal combined with attempts to streamline the referral process internally has many possible ramifications for white collar practitioners. First and foremost, if your client is facing exposure under the False Claims Act, be aware that the DOJ may be combing through the relators complaint to see if the alleged conduct raises criminal concerns or even working directly with the qui tam plaintiff’s lawyer who filed the civil suit. And if the DOJ Criminal Division does take notice and start investigating, the negotiations will inevitably shift from minimizing the financial penalties to avoiding criminal charges at all. The bottom line is that the DOJ has effectively upped its ability to collect much more in fines with the new threat of criminal prosecutions.