(CBS4) – Over the last couple of years, the State of Colorado has received about $12 billion in COVID relief and $6 billion in infrastructure funding. Much of the money will be dispersed in the form of grants for everything from transportation projects to affordable housing, making it a magnet for unscrupulous businesses and nonprofits.
As they concoct schemes to cheat taxpayers, Attorney General Phil Weiser is one step ahead.
“When massive amounts of money get spent, there’s always fraud,” said Weiser.
Where others saw promise, Weiser saw peril. His office has recovered $12 million in Medicaid fraud alone in just the last couple of years.
“But other fraud, where the government is on the hook, we haven’t had any tools,” he said.
That’s because Colorado is one of the few states without a False Claims Act or a civil statute that allows prosecutors to recover tax dollars. Weiser can file criminal charges in some cases, but the standard of proof can be high.
“All of us are taxpayers. When the public is cheated, we all are cheated,” said Weiser.
He fought for a bill to hold cheaters accountable. Under the measure, those who defraud the state or local government can be fined about $12,000 – $24,000 and ordered to pay back triple the tax dollars they stole. The bill also incentivizes whistleblowers by awarding them up to 30 percent of the money recovered.
“Often when fraud happens there are people who know about it and look the other way. The amount of tools this False Claims Act gives us is a game-changer,” said Weiser.
In addition to punishment, he says the bill is also about prevention.
“If you’re a fraudster, you’ve got to think twice about doing your fraud in Colorado because we now have the tools to go after you,” he said.
The bill is modeled after the Federal False Claims Act, which only applies when the federal government is paying for work. The F-B-I has seen massive fraud over the last couple years from $163 billion in suspected unemployment fraud to up to $76 billion in bogus small business loans. One nonprofit in Minnesota was even charged with stealing $3 million meant to provide food for needy children.
Colorado’s False Claims Act is awaiting the Governor’s signature.