WASHINGTON -- Age Refining Inc., the company’s former affiliate, Age Transportation, and Albert Gonzalez, the founder and chairman emeritus of Age Refining have agreed to pay the United States $9 million and reform its business practices as part of a settlement to resolve allegations of false certification in connection with government contracts. The settlement resolves allegations that San Antonio-based Age Refining falsely certified its compliance with the provisions of the Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone Act of 1997) program in order to entitle the company to a price evaluation preference in connection with bidding for JP-8 jet fuel and other contracts with the Department of Defense.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which administers the program, the HUBZone Empowerment Contracting Program was created to stimulate economic development and create jobs in urban and rural communities by providing federal contracting preferences to small businesses. These preferences go to small businesses that obtain HUBZone certification in part by employing staff who live in a HUBZone. The company must also maintain a "principal office" in one of these specially designated areas.
Age Refining has been decertified as a HUBZone company by the SBA. However, it will become eligible to reapply for HUBZone status in February 2007.
“Federal contractors will be held accountable for their violations of procurement regulations,” said Peter D. Keisler, Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice's Civil Division. “This settlement is an example of the Department’s determination to ensure that federal funds are protected from fraud and abuse.”
The United States initiated the investigation in response to a whistleblower action brought by James Carrington, a former employee of Age Refining. Under the False Claims Act, private individuals can bring whistleblower actions for fraud on behalf of the United States, and collect a share of any proceeds recovered by the suit and attorney fees. As a result of the settlement, Mr. Carrington will receive $1.7 million.
The settlement is the culmination of a joint investigation involving agents and attorneys from the U.S. Attorneys Office in San Antonio; the U.S. Department of Justice; the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Office of the Inspector General, Department of Defense, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations; U.S. Small Business Administration; and Defense Energy Support Center, Defense Logistics Agency.
The case is entitled United States ex rel James Carrington v. Age Refining, Inc., Age Transportation, Inc., and Albert Gonzalez; Case No. 04-CA-1179-OG (W.D. Tx.)