(CBS4) – Over the past two years, the state of Colorado has received approximately $12 billion in COVID relief and $6 billion in infrastructure funding. Much of the money will be doled out as grants for everything from transportation projects to affordable housing, making it a magnet for unscrupulous businesses and nonprofits.
As they concoct schemes to deceive taxpayers, Attorney General Phil Weiser is one step ahead.
“When massive amounts of money are spent, there is always fraud,” Weiser said.
Where others saw the promise, Weiser saw the peril. His office has recovered $12 million in Medicaid fraud in the past two years alone.
“But for other frauds, where the government is responsible, we have no tools,” he said.
That’s because Colorado is one of the few states that doesn’t have a misrepresentation law or civil statute allowing prosecutors to recover taxpayer money. Weiser can file criminal charges in some cases, but the standard of proof can be high.
“We are all taxpayers. When the public is deceived, we are all deceived,” Weiser said.
He fought for a bill to hold cheaters accountable. Under this measure, those who defraud the state or local government can be fined approximately $12,000 to $24,000 and ordered to repay three times the taxes they stole. The bill also incentivizes whistleblowers by awarding them up to 30% of the recovered money.
“A lot of times when fraud happens, there are people who know and look the other way. The amount of tools this False Claims Act gives us is a game-changer,” Weiser said.
In addition to punishment, he says the bill is also about prevention.
“If you are a fraudster, you need to think twice about committing your fraud in Colorado because now we have the tools to prosecute you,” he said.
The bill is modeled after the federal misrepresentation law, which only applies when the federal government pays for the work. The FBI has witnessed massive fraud over the past two years, ranging from $163 billion in alleged unemployment fraud to up to $76 billion in bogus small business loans. A Minnesota nonprofit has even been accused of stealing $3 million meant to feed needy children.
Colorado’s False Claims Act awaits Governor’s signature.