LOS ANGELES – A Santa Maria company has paid $1 million to resolve allegations that it falsely claimed it was a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) in order to obtain landscaping and cemetery restoration contracts with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that were set aside for SDVOSBs.
The government’s settlement with Veterans of the Land, Inc. (VOTL), which was finalized on May 6, resolves an investigation into allegations that the company violated the federal civil False Claims Act by falsely representing that it was an SDVOSB, when it was actually controlled by a non-veteran.
The $1 million payment, which was made on May 11, represents virtually all of VOTL’s assets. VOTL has no further contracts with the VA and, as part of the settlement, has agreed to dissolve as a corporation.
From 2008 to 2013, VOTL obtained contracts with the VA under the SDVOSB program to provide landscaping and cemetery restoration services at various U.S. National Cemeteries, including Riverside National Cemetery. There is no allegation that the services provided by the company were improperly performed.
The VA started investigating VOTL after a routine audit of SDVOSB contractors raised concerns about the company. To qualify as an SDVOSB, the veteran must actually control the company. VOTL’s co-owner, Robert Laurel, allegedly recruited a relative, Enrique Escamilla, who is a service-disabled veteran, to partner in the company. But Escamilla lived in Hawaii, allegedly spent much of his time there, and Laurel allegedly made all important corporate decisions, including leasing equipment from another company that he owned.
“This settlement vindicates and protects the interests of legitimate Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses by ensuring the integrity of the VA’s contracting program that supports these businesses,” said Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura. “Veterans who contract with the government must be assured that there is a fair playing field.”
Douglas J. Carver, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General (OIG), Western Field Office, stated: “This settlement demonstrates the OIG’s continued commitment to aggressively pursue individuals and companies that misrepresent themselves as Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses and deny legitimate disabled veterans of the opportunity to compete for VA contracts. The VA OIG will continue to work these complex cases in order to protect the integrity of this program.”
Release No. 15-045