Qui Tam Action Involving the “Army of One” Advertising Campaign
Defense contractors have a long history of cheating the government. The amount and urgency of military spending has always attracted the unscrupulous who victimize both taxpayers and soldiers. Unfortunately, this seems to have institutionalized fraud where the largest defense contractors are routinely settling allegations of fraud under the False Claims Act. But there are a wide variety of frauds against the Department of Defense that are not limited to multi-million dollar weapons systems. Behn & Wyetzner’s qui tam action against advertising company Leo Burnett Inc. is one example.
Leo Burnett paid the federal government $15.5 million in early 2009 to settle a qui tam lawsuit brought by two whistleblowers represented by Michael I. Behn and Linda Wyetzner of Behn & Wyetzner, Chartered, alleging that the company overcharged the government for its work on the Army’s “Army of One” advertising campaign. The complaint covered work Burnett performed between 2000 and 2005 on its $360 million contract—the largest Army advertising contract ever awarded through that time. The qui tam relators, two former high-level executives at Burnett, alleged the company told the Army that an independent subcontractor was working on the internet portion of the campaign, even though Burnett was actually doing the work itself. This enabled Burnett to charge the Army higher hourly rates for work done on the internet campaign, and also to circumvent the contract’s cap on government reimbursement for Burnett’s in-house work. The whistleblowers also alleged Burnett improperly inflated the hourly rates it billed the Army. The relators ultimately received an award of $2.79 million.