A shipping executive and 40-year veteran of the shipping industry has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against a company called Jacintoport International Corp. Jacintoport is a 62-acre cargo handling facility and stevedoring operation that is located within the Port of Houston and that is instrumental in the USAID operation. The USAID Operation dates back to 1954 and is a $1.5 billion government program in which bulk commodities are purchased and shipped to international stockpiles or to starving countries around the world.
The whistleblower lawsuit alleges that Jacintoport has been overcharging for loading merchant vessels by assessing an inflated cargo-handling fee. The lawsuit has been filed under the False Claims Act, and the Justice Department has intervened in the case.
Individuals who believe they are aware of wrongdoing or fraud against the government should contact a whistleblower attorney in Texas for information about the False Claims Act and for help with their own whistleblower lawsuit.
Allegations of Fraud in Food Aid Programs
The USAID contract specifies a maximum amount that Jacintoport can charge for cargo handling fees for the shipment of food aid. The lawsuit alleges that the company may have been charging fees that exceeded contractual maximums by as much as 20 percent.
The Justice Department investigators who became involved in the case report that they have uncovered at least 140 different alleged overcharges that occurred between 2008 and 2010. A total of around 57 of the overcharges occurred on items that were handled by the whistleblower's vessels. The total excess fees may have reached as high as $500,000.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Jacintoport denies the allegations and suggests that the whistleblower came forward only after Jacintoport refused to drop legal action seeking $1.6 million in damages. Jacintoport was trying to collect the money from the whistleblower because his shipping company allegedly failed to provide ships on a schedule that had been prearranged. Jacintoport also says that there was no intentional overcharging and that its contract with USAID was vague.
Since the Justice Department's independent investigators have found evidence of wrongdoing, it is unlikely that the whistleblower was just retaliating against Jacintoport. However, the case is still underway and there have been no definitive decisions on whether Jacintoport is guilty of any wrongdoing.
The case has dragged on for a long time and it has now been more than three years since the initial allegations were made against Jacintoport. The U.S. District Court assigned to the case has expressed a desire to shorten the trial time since the case has "languished for various reasons long enough."
Unfortunately, the ongoing legal dispute means that Houston could lose the only U.S. preposition warehouse for emergency relief supplies. The fact that the pre-trial process has dragged on for three years also demonstrates how complicated whistleblower cases can become and thus underscores the need for an experienced and qualified legal professional whenever you come forward with a False Claims Act case.
Contact a whistleblower attorney if you believe you have evidence of wrongdoing. Call Brewer & Pritchard P.C. today at 800-445-8710 or visit https://www.bplaw.com to schedule a consultation.