The government has filed a complaint against Canton, Ohio-based TAB Construction Co. Inc. (TAB) and its owner, William E. Richardson III, for allegedly making false statements to the Small Business Administration (SBA) to obtain certification as a Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) company, the Justice Department announced today.
“The HUBZone program is intended to create jobs in areas that historically have had trouble attracting business,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division Stuart F. Delery. “The Justice Department will take strong enforcement action when companies obtain contracts to which they are not entitled.”
The government alleges that TAB used its fraudulently procured HUBZone certification to obtain four U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ construction contracts worth millions of dollars. Each of those contracts had been set aside for qualified HUBZone companies. The government’s complaint asserts claims against TAB and Richardson under the False Claims Act and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989.
Allegedly, Richardson originally applied to the HUBZone program in 2000 by claiming that TAB’s principal office was located in a designated HUBZone when no TAB employees worked out of the HUBZone office, and TAB actually was located in a non-HUBZone. Even though Richardson told the SBA that TAB was located in a HUBZone, Richardson consistently used his non-HUBZone address in conducting TAB’s other business affairs, at one point even stating under oath in private litigation that TAB’s office was located in a non-HUBZone. In 2006, Richardson allegedly applied for re-certification to the HUBZone program, again falsely stating that eight employees worked in the designated HUBZone. The government alleges that just six weeks after Richardson re-certified its eligibility with the SBA, TAB completed an affidavit in an unrelated matter, which stated that TAB’s principal office was located in a non-HUBZone.
Under the HUBZone program, companies that maintain their principal office in a designated HUBZone, and meet certain other requirements, can apply to the SBA for certification as a HUBZone small business company. HUBZone companies can then use this certification when bidding on government contracts. In certain cases, government agencies will restrict competition for a contract to HUBZone-certified companies.
“We will not tolerate fraud in the HUBZone or any other SBA program,” said SBA Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson. “With our interagency partners, this office will continue to pursue those who defraud the government by lying to gain access to federal set-aside contracts.”
“SBA’s contracting programs, including the HUBZone program, provide small businesses with the opportunity to grow and create jobs,” said SBA General Counsel Sara D. Lipscomb. “SBA has no tolerance for waste, fraud or abuse in any government contracting program and is committed to working with our federal partners to ensure the benefits of these programs flow to the intended recipients.”
The government filed its complaint in two consolidated lawsuits filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act. Under the Act, a private citizen can sue on behalf of the government and share in any recovery. The government also is entitled to intervene in the lawsuit, as it has done in this case.
This matter was handled by the Commercial Litigation Branch of the Justice Department’s Civil Division in conjunction with the Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General and Office of General Counsel and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.
The consolidated civil cases are U.S. ex rel. Roy. J. Fairbrother Jr. and Louis Petit v. TAB Construction Co. Inc., et al., No. 5:11-cv-1432 (N.D. Ohio) and U.S. ex rel. Patricia Hopson and Vince Pavkov v. TAB Construction Co. Inc., No. 5:12-cv-135 (N.D. Ohio). The claims asserted against TAB and Richardson are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.