When contractor Malcolm Wilson lost out in a competition to outfit four federal buildings in Illinois with lamps, he suspected the winning vendor of supplying products made in China, a violation of the Trade Agreements Act.
To find out, he filed a Freedom of Information Act with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversaw the project, to learn the model of lamp the competitor was supplying, then sent an email to the lamp maker asking where the product as made.
China, the manufacturer responded.
One year after Wilson filed a False Claims Act lawsuit against the competitor, Supplies Now Inc., the company agreed to pay $270,000 to resolve the case, according to the General Services Administration’s Office of Inspector General, which announced the July 30 settlement Monday.
“Many times vendors know where a product came from simply by its price point,” said Wilson’s attorney, Vincent McKnight, who has handled similar cases. “As soon as he recognized the price point, he knew exactly where it came from. He just had to verify it. That’s how knowledgeable these vendors are about their products.”
Supplies Now did not immediately return calls Monday, but court records detailing how the lawsuit came about also show the settlement was struck at the same time the Justice Department intervened in the case.
False Claims Act cases are filed under seal until the Justice Department decides whether to intervene on behalf of the plaintiff. Under the law, plaintiffs are entitled to a share of the money recouped by the government.
Meanwhile, in a similar case, the Justice Department in April joined in a False Claims Act lawsuit against another GSA vendor, Capitol Supply. The Justice Department complaint said the contractor had “falsely certified” to GSA that office shredders the contractor was selling to federal agencies originated from the U.S. or other countries, when they actually were manufactured in China.
No settlement appears imminent in that case, however.
Capitol Supply lawyers have since filed papers in U.S. District Court in Washington asking the judge to toss the Justice Department complaint, noting, among other things, that the company relies on third parties for the accuracy of data about the millions of products it sells.