Justice Department to pursue whistleblower lawsuit against Fluor Hanford

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldNovember 9, 2012 

The Department of Justice is taking over a whistleblower lawsuit accusing Fluor Hanford of using federal money to lobby for funds for the HAMMER training center at Hanford.

The Department of Justice plans to file its own complaint in Eastern Washington U.S. District Court within 120 days with the whistleblower claims and additional allegations against Fluor Hanford and its parent company, Fluor Corp., said court documents.

"Fluor is aware of the action announced by the Department of Justice and the company vigorously denies the allegations in the Hanford case," the company said in a statement Thursday.

Fluor held a Department of Energy contract from 1997 through part of 2009 to operate HAMMER to train Hanford employees and other entities that would pay for the cost of using the training center near Richland.

Fluor is accused of using federal money to lobby from 2005 to 2008, even though to receive its federal contract it was required to certify it would not use federal funds for lobbying, according to court documents.

"The taxpayer money Congress allocated for this program was for training federal emergency response personnel and first responders, not to lobby Congress and others for more funding," Stuart Delery, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, said in a statement.

Michael Ormsby, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, said in a statement, "The allegations set forth in the whistleblower complaint are troubling and very serious."

Loydene Rambo, who previously was a contracting official for HAMMER, filed the whistleblower lawsuit in 2011. Documents in the case then were ordered sealed by the court.

Initial efforts by HAMMER to grow by marketing training to regional first responders, such as the Seattle Fire Department, were not as financially successful as planned, Rambo's court complaint said.

In 2005, HAMMER hired Congressional Strategies and Secure Horizons Consulting to market its training capabilities to national entities such as the National Guard Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security, the lawsuit alleged.

The companies were paid using Department of Energy money, and members of Congress and federal agencies were lobbied to include additional funds for HAMMER in congressional appropriations for the agencies, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleged that two HAMMER officials with salaries paid with federal money also lobbied for appropriations that would benefit the training center.

Rambo, who resigned from HAMMER, said she repeatedly raised concerns about paying Congressional Strategies and Secure Horizons Consulting with federal dollars and asked for permission to obtain a legal opinion, according to court documents.

She was "rebuffed, threatened and abused," the court complaint alleged.

Congressional Strategies was paid $398,164 in congressionally appropriated funds through March 2010 and Secure Horizons Consulting was paid $278,148 in congressionally appropriated money through March 2010, according to the court complaint.

Mission Support Alliance, which took over operation of HAMMER after Fluor's contract expired, began paying for Congressional Strategies' work and part of Secure Horizons Consulting's work with corporate money several months into its contract, according to the court complaint.

In addition to Fluor, Rambo named Mission Support Alliance and its corporate owners, plus Congressional Strategies and Secure Horizons Consulting, in the lawsuit.

However, the Justice Department is taking over only the claims against Fluor Corp. and Fluor Hanford.

Rambo filed her lawsuit under the False Claims Act, which allows private parties to sue on behalf of the United States and share in any recovery. The act authorizes the Department of Justice to intervene in a False Claims Act lawsuit and take over responsibility for litigating it.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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