Whether you are a federal contractor, a government employee, or an individual associated with some level of federal involvement, you may be shocked to learn that you are under investigation by the federal government.
When the feds decided to target you for investigation involving federal contracts, they are common signs to watch out for ( see below). The most common signs of being under investigation include talking to your friends and even leaving a business card on your door.
Oftentimes, if the FBI brings you under its investigation ‘claws,’ it may not confirm that you are a target. If at any time you have a hunch that you are under investigation, you want to seriously consider reaching out to a criminal defense attorney.
This article is primarily focused on individuals or companies involved in federal government procurement and trying to find out what to do if you are under investigation. In some circumstances, subcontractors involved in federal government contracts can be involved in an investigation.
HOW TO FIND OUT IF YOUR ARE UNDER FEDERAL INVESTIGATION
If you are wondering how to find out signs you are under investigation, there are a series of obvious signs such as:
- A government investigator knocks on your door and attempts to ask questions – having legal counsel present is always a preferred option that you should seriously think about.
- Sometimes during a government investigation, and to preserve the element of surprise, an investigator or other law enforcement personnel may execute a search warrant. You can ask to see when presented.
- The most common signs you are under investigation is when the federal government issues you a subpoena. This is especially true for government contractors under investigation for fraud against the government.
- Sometimes a United States attorney may send out a target letter asking for your cooperation and to come in and answer questions. This is another situation where having a government investigation attorney is critical
NOT SO OBVIOUS SIGNS OF BEING UNDER FEDERAL INVESTIGATION
In addition to the above, people also ask – what are signs I’m being investigated? There are also not so obvious signs of being under investigation by the federal government. The following are common indicators or red flags that you may be under investigation
- As a government contractor, the contracting officer or even the contracting officer representative starts asking your employees about operational facts in the company
- The contracting officer in writing has sent you actual letters about mistakes in your invoices
- You were issued a cure notice or show cause notice about faulty equipment or improper materials
- The government out of the blue ask for a site visit to your business
- A co-work or friend starts asking you unusual questions about your job and how you do it
- You receive an audit that concludes that the government has overpaid you.
AS A GOVERNMENT CONTRACTOR WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO KNOW AHEAD OF TIME IF YOUR ARE UNDER INVESTIGATION?
As a corporation or individual, you still have legal rights. For example, you have a right not to incriminate yourself. Although most people may have some understanding of the Constitution, the reality is that if the federal attorneys at pursuing you for violation of Small Business Administration (SBA) small business programs, then you want to be careful of answering questions that may seriously impact the underlying investigation.
- Most government contractors do not understand the statutory provisions of certain programs
- Getting into a conversation with federal investigators can impact a criminal indictment later.
- Statements made early can come back to haunt you later.
Unfortunately, the government does its homework before a federal government investigation is launched. Signs of being under federal investigation may be obvious and others may not be so obvious. Regardless of which type of sign, you should always remember that you do have constitutional rights.
WHAT ARE COMMON REASONS WHY SMALL GOVERNMENT CONTRACTORS ARE UNDER INVESTIGATION?
There are a variety of reasons why small businesses as government contractors are under investigation. The most common reason is for violating the Federal False Claims Act.
Second, companies are being pursued for violation of the VA’s Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB Fraud).
Third, being under investigation for violating the SBA 8(a) BD Program, SBA affiliation rules, or HUBZone fraud is yet another common problem. In either circumstance, business owners, or the company itself can be targeted for not complying with the limitations on subcontracting regulations or passing through contracts to non-eligible companies. Find out more about small business SDVOSB.
These are all reasons why the federal investigative bodies pursue federal government contractors or their corporate executives for criminal activity. Having someone that understands the underlying issues upfront can save hundreds of thousands of dollars or even put you in a better position to bargain or negotiate.
- The further the case gets ahead, the more difficult it might be to put yourself in a better negotiating position.
- Having a legal representative that understands federal small business programs upfront can help you to effectively push back against unwarranted criminal charges.
What to do when you are being investigated?
WHAT SHOULD YOU BE AWARE OF WHEN SPEAKING TO FEDERAL INVESTIGATORS?
This point cannot be overemphasized for federal contractors. When you speak to federal investigators upfront, you are either a target or not for prosecution. In either situation, you have to be cognizant of the fact that information provided to the investigator can seriously impact any future efforts to bring criminal charges against you. You should always consider consulting with legal counsel before interviews.
- You should always cooperate with federal investigative authorities
- You have statutory and or constitutional rights that you must protect
Be aware that any false statements made to federal investigators can have a domino effect on future charges. Statements made in good faith because you think that you have nothing to hide can change the government’s posture pretty quickly. Learn various tips about understanding the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) If the investigator somehow finds the statement is false, then your bargaining position is reduced simply because the false statement by itself can cause a new criminal case against you.
COMMON PROBLEMS WITH WITH SBA SMALL BUSINESS PROGRAM AND GOVERNMENT INVESTIGATIONS TO WATCH OUT FOR
Since small businesses are common targets for federal investigators. Yet, many executives and companies still find themselves in hot water. This makes it very difficult to secure a strong point of negotiation later in a criminal or civil case. For example, not all small businesses understand the rules governing pass-through contracting or limitations on subcontracting. There may be a teaming agreement or joint venture involved.
The SBA, VA or some other entity has reason to believe that your company has pass-through contracts illegally to subcontractors. This puts you in a very precarious position. You must have a professional up from that can push back against federal prosecutors or even the SBA. It is not unheard of the federal agencies to misapply their own rules.
- Even the SBA has been reversed on its day-to-day decisions regarding its own programs
- Unless you can establish the government’s weak position upfront, then federal prosecutors will take the gamble and move forward with criminal prosecution.
HOW TO AVOID COMMON AND COSTLY LEGAL MISTAKES
As mentioned throughout the article, be sure that you have someone on your team that understands the federal procurement process. Without it, you will more than likely be paying for traditional criminal attorneys to get up to speed on federal procurement laws. Many successful companies hire outside legal counsel to advise on the underpinnings of government contracting investigations.
Understand the SBA programs are unique programs. When federal prosecutors bring criminal charges such as conspiracy to defraud the government under SBA small business programs, they also have to prove the underlying elements of their case. Most small businesses at best will have a criminal defense attorney on board. However, he or she may not have the requisite experience to combat the underlying charges discussed in the prosecutors’ complaint to the court.
How to tell if you are under investigation? Am I under federal investigation? What do you next?
The obvious answer is to get hold of your attorney. However, knowing ahead of time that you are under investigation is the critical factor. Is someone at work now talking to you that doesn’t normally talk to you? Has your boss called you in the office and somehow asks you a number of unusual questions? These are all signs of potentially being investigated. Learn about the Consequences of Procurement Fraud Schemes & Avoiding Criminal Liability
DO YOU HAVE TO SPEAK TO LAW ENFORCEMENT IF THEY APPROACH YOU?
Federal law enforcement agencies are trained to make you feel tremendous pressure to speak to them. However, you want to plan on speaking to them but not without legal counsel present. This is a crucial aspect of a government investigation when your legal rights, constitutional rights, and others, could be in serious jeopardy.
You do not have to provide incriminating statements. At best, you can ask to have your attorney present. Learn more about SBA Affiliation Rules – Important New Government Contract Small Business Guidance.
, be careful with who you talk to. Speaking to third parties can be problematic in that those people can be called to testify or issued a subpoena. Whatever you do, always remember that the investigation office keeps tabs on what you do. You never want to move forward against the federal prosecutor without having a team on your side that understands the substantive areas for which the government is seeking criminal liability.
CALL OUR GOVERNMENT CONTRACT INVESTIGATION ATTORNEYS FOR IMMEDIATE HELP
If you’ve found out that you are under a federal investigation involving a federal government contract, need an internal corporate investigation for SDVOSB fraud, HUBZone Fraud or some other charge in government contracting, call our government contract defense lawyers to get a free initial consultation at 1-866-601-5518.