Oklahoma Contractors to Pay $2.8 Million to Settle False Claims Act Allegations Concerning Fraudulently Obtained Small Business Contracts

Tulsa, Oklahoma-based contractor the Ross Group Construction Corporation (Ross Group), and its corporate affiliates, have agreed to pay over $2.8 million to settle allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by improperly obtaining federal set-aside contracts reserved for disadvantaged small businesses, the Justice Department announced today.   

“Small business set-aside contracts provide opportunities for small businesses to participate in federal contracting and gain valuable experience to help them compete for future economic opportunities,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.  “We will pursue those who knowingly obtain set-aside contracts to which they are not entitled and thereby prevent deserving small businesses from receiving the assistance that Congress intended.”

To qualify as a small business for purposes of U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) programs, companies must meet defined eligibility criteria, including requirements concerning size, ownership, and operational control.  The settlement with Ross Group resolves allegations that the company fraudulently induced the government to award certain small business set-aside contracts to several affiliated entities that did not meet eligibility requirements.  The United States alleged that Ross Group created two companies, PentaCon LLC and C3 LLC, to obtain small business set-aside contracts for which Ross Group itself was ineligible.  The United States further alleged that Ross Group maintained operational control over the day-to-day and long-term management decisions of the two purported small businesses, including controlling their financial affairs and business operations, and that, as a result, neither PentaCon nor C3 satisfied the size and eligibility requirements to participate in the set-aside programs.  Ross Group, PentaCon, and C3 allegedly concealed their affiliation from the United States and knowingly misrepresented the eligibility of PentaCon and C3 for the set-aside contracts. 

“It is critical that we protect the integrity of federal government contract programs so that taxpayer money goes only to those who legitimately qualify for assistance,” said U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Downing for the Western District of Oklahoma.  “We will continue to hold accountable those who make false statements to take unfair advantage of programs for which they would not otherwise qualify, because it deprives legitimate applicants from obtaining these necessary benefits.  I want to specifically thank the Defense Criminal Investigative Service for their outstanding and thorough investigative work in this case.”

“SBA’s preferential contracting programs are intended to promote development of eligible small businesses,” said Small Business Administration Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware.  “OIG will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to identify, investigate, and pursue people and businesses who abuse these programs by trying to participate through front companies.  I want to thank the Department of Justice and the other federal agencies involved for their dedication to pursuing justice in this case.”

“This settlement highlights the commitment of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) and its law enforcement partners to protect the integrity of the Department of Defense (DoD) contracting process,” said Michael Mentavlos, Special Agent in Charge of the DCIS Southwest Field Office.  “DCIS will continue to investigate fraud and corruption targeting DoD programs by pursuing all available remedies possible.”

The settlement with Ross Group and its corporate affiliates resolves a lawsuit filed under the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act, which permits private parties to file suit on behalf of the United States for false claims and share in a portion of the government’s recovery.  The civil lawsuit was filed in federal district court in the Western District of Oklahoma and is captioned United States ex rel. Southwind Construction Services, LLC v. The Ross Group Construction Corporation, et al., Case No. 15-0102-R (W.D. Okla.).  As part of today’s resolution, the whistleblower will receive approximately $520,000.   

The settlement is the result of a coordinated effort among the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma, DCIS, the Inspector General Offices of the SBA, General Services Administration, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Army Criminal Investigation Division Major Procurement Fraud Unit.

To learn more about the Civil Division, please visit https://www.justice.gov/civil. To learn more about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western District of Oklahoma, please visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdok.

The claims resolved by the settlement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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Author: June 2, 2020

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Federal Court Issues Temporary Restraining Order Against Man Offering Fraudulent Coronavirus Treatments

Today, federal authorities served a temporary restraining order upon Fort Davis, Texas, resident Marc “White Eagle” Travalino in an effort to combat alleged fraud related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  The restraining order was issued on Monday, June 1, 2020, by United States District Judge David Counts of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas and was unsealed today.

The government filed the civil action in order to stop Travalino from committing mail and wire fraud by peddling fraudulent remedies for a host of diseases and medical conditions, including COVID-19, through his business and his website, “whiteeaglenativeherbs.net.”  According to court records, Travalino sells product that he claims “are proven to work and destroy” coronavirus. In fact, there are no drugs or other therapeutics that have been demonstrated to cure or prevent COVID-19.

“When sellers falsely promise cures for serious diseases, they put the public health at risk,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The Department of Justice is committed to preventing fraudsters from exploiting this pandemic.”

After guaranteeing an undercover special agent that his hospitalized grandmother would not die from COVID-19 if given the medicine, Travalino allegedly sold the agent a treatment for COVID-19 on May 5, 2020.  On May 14, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent Travalino a warning letter requiring him to cease and desist sales of unapproved and unproven products related to COVID-19 cures and treatments.  But almost a week after he was warned to stop, Travalino again sold his fraudulent COVID-19 treatments to another undercover agent. 

Today’s action will shutter Travalino’s business and website immediately while this investigation continues.  In so doing, the government is employing a federal statute that permits federal courts to issue injunctions to prevent harm to potential victims of fraudulent schemes.

The Department of Justice recommends that Americans to take the following precautionary measures to protect themselves from known and emerging scams related to COVID-19:

  • Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.
  • Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19.  Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating.  For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”
  • Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes.  Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.
  • Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources.  Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device.
  • Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is operating and up to date.
  • Ignore offers from suspicious sources for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment.  Remember, if a vaccine becomes available, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.
  • Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies.  Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.
  • Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving any donation.  Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like “CDC” or “government” in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials.  For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
  • Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail.  Don’t send money through any of these channels.
  • Be cautious of “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus.  If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand.  For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, consumers may visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO websites.  The public is urged to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline by phone at (1-866-720-5721) or via an online reporting form available at www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/webform/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.      

The enforcement action taken today is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Cannizzaro, Eddie Castillo and Michael C. Galdo of the Western District of Texas, and Senior Litigation Counsel Ross S. Goldstein of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.  The FBI’s El Paso Field Office and the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations are conducting the investigation.

The claims made in the complaint are allegations that, if the case were to proceed to trial, the government must prove to receive a permanent injunction against the defendant.

Additional information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts may be found at www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch.  For more information about the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas, visit its website at www.justice.gov/usao-wdtx.  For information about the Department of Justice’s efforts to stop COVID-19 fraud, visit www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

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Author: June 2, 2020

Justice Department Reaches Agreement with Iowa City Community School District, Iowa, to Ensure Accessible Playgrounds

The Justice Department today announced that it reached a settlement agreement with the Iowa City Community School District (School District), Iowa, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The agreement resolves a complaint filed by parents of children with disabilities alleging that playgrounds in the school district are not accessible to children who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices.  Based on the complaint, the Justice Department surveyed playgrounds at twelve school district elementary schools and identified elements of those playgrounds that did not meet the applicable ADA Standards for Accessible Design. 

Under the agreement, the school district will ensure that its playgrounds comply with Title II of the ADA and the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.  The school district will remedy violations related to play components; play area amenities, such as benches and picnic tables; accessible routes to play areas; and routes connecting play components.  

“Nearly thirty years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, no child with a disability should be prevented from accessing a playground because it has been constructed in violation of the ADA,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division.  “This settlement agreement will ensure that children with disabilities can access their school’s playground and play alongside their classmates.  We commend the Iowa City Community School District for its ongoing cooperation with this matter, as well as the significant steps it has already taken to ensure that its playgrounds are accessible.”

2020 marks the ADA’s 30th anniversary.  The Justice Department continues to advance the nation’s goal of equal opportunity, integration, full participation, inclusion, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.  Through its enforcement and technical assistance tools, the Justice Department strives to eliminate unlawful discrimination against individuals with disabilities. 

To read the settlement agreement, please click http://www.ada.gov/iccsd_sa.html.  For more information on the Civil Rights Division, please visit www.justice.gov/crt.  For more information about the ADA, please call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or visit www.ada.gov.

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Author: June 2, 2020

Attorney General William P. Barr’s Statement on Protests in Washington, D.C.

Attorney General William P. Barr released the following statement:

“Last night was a more peaceful night in the District of Columbia.  Working together, federal and local law enforcement made significant progress in restoring order to the nation’s capital. 

I am grateful to Chief Peter Newsham and the Metropolitan Police Department for their outstanding work and professionalism.  The District is well served by this exceptional police force. 

I also thank Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley, and the men and women of the Department of Defense for their support.  I am particularly impressed by the citizen-soldiers of the D.C. National Guard, who are committed to serving their community, and did so with great effectiveness last night. 

Not least, I am grateful to the many federal law enforcement agencies and personnel who helped protect the District, including the FBI, Secret Service, Park Police, ATF, DEA, Bureau of Prisons, U.S. Marshals Service, Capitol Police, Department of Homeland Security’s CBP and Border Patrol units, and others. 

There will be even greater law enforcement resources and support in the region tonight.  The most basic function of government is to provide security for people to live their lives and exercise their rights, and we will meet that responsibility here in the nation’s capital.”

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Author: June 2, 2020

Department of Justice Awards Nearly $400 Million for Law Enforcement Hiring to Advance Community Policing

The Department of Justice today announced nearly $400 million in grant funding through the Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) COPS Hiring Program (CHP).  The Attorney General announced funding awards to 596 law enforcement agencies across the nation, which allows those agencies to hire 2,732 additional full-time law enforcement professionals.  The awards announced today are inclusive of the $51 million announced in May as part of Operation Relentless Pursuit.  

“The Department of Justice is committed to providing the police chiefs and sheriffs of our great nation with needed resources, tools, and support.  The funding announced today will bolster their ranks and contribute to expanding community policing efforts nationwide,” said Attorney General William P. Barr.  “A law enforcement agency’s most valuable assets are the men and women who put their lives on the line every day in the name of protecting and serving their communities.”

The COPS Hiring Program is a competitive award program intended to reduce crime and advance public safety through community policing by providing direct funding for the hiring of career law enforcement officers.  In addition to providing financial support for hiring, CHP provides funding to state, local, and tribal law enforcement to enhance local community policing strategies and tactics.  In a changing economic climate, CHP funding helps law enforcement agencies maintain sufficient sworn personnel levels to promote safe communities.  Funding through this program had been on hold since the spring of 2018 due to a nationwide injunction that was lifted earlier this year.

CHP applicants were required to identify a specific crime and disorder problem focus area and explain how the funding will be used to implement community policing approaches to that problem focus area.  Forty-three percent of the awards announced today will focus on violent crime, while the remainder of the awards will focus on a variety of issues including school-based policing to fund school resource officer positions, building trust and respect, and opioid education, prevention, and intervention.  The COPS Office received nearly 1,100 applications requesting more than 4,000 law enforcement positions. 

The complete list of awards can be found here.  To learn more about CHP, please visit https://cops.usdoj.gov/chp.  For additional information about the COPS Office, please visit www.cops.usdoj.gov.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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Author: June 2, 2020

Statement from Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband and Michigan U.S. Attorneys on Michigan Governor’s Decision to Adjust Reopening Plans

Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric Dreiband, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider for the Eastern District of Michigan, and U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge for the Western District of Michigan issued the following statement:

“Following action by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Governor Whitmer provided much-needed relief for Michiganders by rescinding her executive orders which had required certain retail business to operate ‘by appointment only,’ prohibited other businesses that sued the governor from having the face-to-face meetings necessary to operate, even while practicing social distancing, and had required Michiganders to stay home.”

“We thank the governor for moving to Stage 4 of the Michigan Safe Start Plan, which better respects the constitutional liberties of Michiganders, especially when it comes to their ability to maintain their economic livelihood.  Some Michigan businesses, such as indoor gyms, hair salons, barbershops, indoor theaters and some similar venues remain closed.  Additionally, there is ongoing litigation challenging whether state law authorizes the governor’s COVID-19 orders.  The Department of Justice will continue to prioritize Attorney General Barr’s Memorandum regarding Balancing Public Safety with the Preservation of Civil Rights and to monitor the legality of the process of reopening in Michigan.”

Background

On Friday, May 29, 2020, the Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in a Michigan federal court in support of a lawsuit filed by seven businesses challenging the restrictions imposed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  That statement of interest explained that the governor’s COVID-19 orders, however well-intentioned, raised constitutional concerns by imposing what appeared to be arbitrary and unreasonable limits on how and ultimately whether certain businesses could operate in Michigan relative to other similarly situated businesses.  The statement of interest also explained that the federal Constitution provides for a cohesive national economy for all 50 states and all Americans and that the governor’s COVID-19 orders may be unduly interfering with interstate commerce.

Matthew Schneider, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, and Assistant Attorney General Dreiband, are overseeing the Justice Department’s effort to monitor state and local policies relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal case is Signature Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc., et al. v. Whitmer, No. 1:20-00360 and additional information about the department’s May 29 statement of interest can be found here:  https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/department-justice-files-statement-interest-support-businesses-suffering-arbitrary-and

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Author: June 2, 2020

Mississippi Department of Health Services Agrees to Pay $5 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Liability in Connection with SNAP Quality Control

The Mississippi Department of Health Services (MDHS) has agreed to pay the United States $5 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act in its administration of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Department of Justice announced today.  Until 2008, SNAP was known as the Food Stamp Program. 

“SNAP is an important vehicle for helping families in need,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.  “This settlement is another example of the Department’s commitment to protecting taxpayer funds and the vital programs that they support.”

“Although it is appalling that these actions occurred within a state agency entrusted with assisting vulnerable and needy residents, I am heartened that MDHS has resolved its liability and cooperated with our investigation,” said U.S. Attorney William D. Hyslop for the Eastern District of Washington.  “Together with our partners in the Justice Department’s Civil Division and the USDA, we will continue to investigate and hold accountable those who misuse and wrongfully obtain SNAP funding.”

“We appreciate the commitment and investigative assistance provided by our partners at the Department of Justice’s Civil Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office throughout this multi-state investigation,” said Special Agent in Charge Bethanne M. Dinkins of the USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG).  “We also wish to note the technical assistance provided by our colleagues in the Office of Audit at OIG.  During the investigation, conducted by OIG’s Northeast Regional Office, we worked together to address the concerns of employees of multiple states and others who alleged that the integrity of the SNAP quality control process was weakened by third-party consultants.  These concerned individuals reported that cases were not being treated in a consistent manner, and that certain advice from consultants resulted in identified errors being diminished rather than used to improve eligibility determinations.  The settlements reached to date send a strong message regarding the government’s commitment to work across agency lines to protect the integrity of SNAP.”

Under SNAP, USDA provides eligible low-income individuals and families with financial assistance to buy nutritious food.  Since 2010, SNAP has served on average more than 45 million Americans per month, and provided more than $71 billion annually. 

Although the federal government funds SNAP benefits, it relies on the states to determine whether applicants are eligible for benefits, to administer those benefits, and to perform quality control to ensure that eligibility decisions are accurate.  The USDA requires that the states’ quality control processes ensure that benefits are correctly awarded, are free from bias, and accurately report states’ error rates in making eligibility decisions. 

The USDA reimburses states for a portion of their administrative expenses in administering SNAP, including expenses for providing quality control.  It also pays performance bonuses to states that report the lowest and the most improved error rates each year, and can impose monetary sanctions on states with high error rates that do not show improvement. 

The settlement resolves allegations that beginning in 2012, MDHS contracted with a consultant known as Julie Osnes Consulting, LLC (Osnes Consulting) to provide advice and recommendations designed to lower its SNAP quality control error rate.  The United States alleged that Osnes Consulting’s recommendations, as implemented by MDHS, injected bias into MDHS’s quality control process and resulted in MDHS submitting false quality control data and information to USDA, for which it received undeserved performance bonuses for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.   

This is the seventh settlement in this matter, and the sixth settlement with a state agency for manipulating its SNAP quality control findings.  The United States has reached previous settlements with state agencies in Virginia, Wisconsin, Texas, Louisiana, and Alaska, as well as with Osnes Consulting and its owner, Julie Osnes.  Including this settlement, the United States has now recovered over $41 million in connection with this investigation.  

The settlement was the result of a joint investigation conducted by the USDA-OIG, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington, and the Department of Justice’s Civil Division, Commercial Litigation Branch.  The investigation arose out of a nationwide audit of SNAP Quality Control processes by the USDA-OIG.  The claims resolved by the civil settlement are allegations only and there has been no determination of liability.

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Author: June 2, 2020

Attorney General William P. Barr’s Statement on Riots and Domestic Terrorism

Attorney General William P. Barr has issued the following statement:

“With the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful and legitimate protests have been hijacked by violent radical elements.  Groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda.

It is time to stop watching the violence and to confront and stop it.  The continued violence and destruction of property endangers the lives and livelihoods of others, and interferes with the rights of peaceful protestors, as well as all other citizens. 

It also undercuts the urgent work that needs to be done – through constructive engagement between affected communities and law enforcement leaders – to address legitimate grievances.  Preventing reconciliation and driving us apart is the goal of these radical groups, and we cannot let them succeed. 

It is the responsibility of state and local leaders to ensure that adequate law enforcement resources, including the National Guard where necessary, are deployed on the streets to reestablish law and order.  We saw this finally happen in Minneapolis last night, and it worked. 

Federal law enforcement actions will be directed at apprehending and charging the violent radical agitators who have hijacked peaceful protest and are engaged in violations of federal law.

To identify criminal organizers and instigators, and to coordinate federal resources with our state and local partners, federal law enforcement is using our existing network of 56 regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF). 

The violence instigated and carried out by Antifa and other similar groups in connection with the rioting is domestic terrorism and will be treated accordingly.”

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Author: May 31, 2020

South Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Making a Bomb Threat to a Clinic and Lying to the FBI

Rodney Allen, 43, of Beaufort, South Carolina, pleaded guilty today in federal court in Jacksonville, Florida, to one count of intimidating and interfering with the employees of an abortion clinic by making a bomb threat and one count of making false statements to a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

“Federal law makes it illegal to threaten to blow up people and to lie to the FBI about bomb threats,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband.  “The Civil Rights Division will continue to enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act to protect all people in our nation from the kind of cowardly threat and lies that led to this case.”

“Healthcare facilities, and those who receive their services, should be able to operate free from fear of threats or harm,” said U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez from the Middle District of Florida. “We will continue to work with our public safety partners to ensure that no one is prohibited from exercising their right to work or access to care.”

According to court documents, on August 29, 2019, Allen called the clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, and said that someone was coming to blow it up. Allen made several other calls to the clinic that day in an attempt to interfere with its ability to provide services. Employees recognized Allen’s voice and were concerned that he would do something desperate, so they enlisted the help of a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office officer to search the property. The FBI obtained toll records and subscriber information for the number used to make the bomb threat to the clinic and positively identified Allen as the caller. In a voluntary and surreptitiously recorded interview with the FBI, Allen falsely denied calling the clinic and stating that someone was coming to blow it up. 

This case was investigated by the FBI’s Columbia and Jacksonville Divisions. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Washington of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and Trial Attorneys Sanjay Patel and Anna Gotfryd of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case.

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Author: May 29, 2020

Department of Justice Files Statement of Interest in Support of Businesses Suffering from Arbitrary and Irrational Restrictions of Michigan Governor’s COVID-19 Orders

The Department of Justice today filed a statement of interest in a Michigan federal court in support of a lawsuit filed by seven businesses challenging the restrictions imposed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement of interest is part of Attorney General William P. Barr’s April 27, 2020 initiative directing Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division, and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew Schneider, to review state and local policies to ensure that civil liberties are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor of Michigan has, over the past two months, issued over 100 executive orders that impose sweeping limitations on nearly all aspects of life for citizens of Michigan, significantly impairing in some instances their ability to maintain their economic livelihoods.

According to the lawsuit, the governor’s orders are arbitrary and discriminate against their businesses by treating them differently than other similarly situated businesses. Although the governor’s actions have required the plaintiffs to close or significantly restrict their businesses for over two months, the orders have allowed similar occupations to operate.

The plaintiffs include a real estate brokerage, a lawn and property maintenance company, an automotive glass exporter, an engine oil and auto parts distributor, a small jewelry store, a dental office, and an association of car washes. The plaintiffs brought their case in the Western District of Michigan.

“Our Constitution is enduring, and it is critically important that government comply fully with the Constitution in times of crisis,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Constitution permits appropriate state and local government restrictions to protect the health and safety of Americans, but it does not permit arbitrary limits that limit the right of all people in our country to be treated equally and fairly by the government.”

“While we appreciate the governor’s serious responsibility to safeguard public health through this pandemic, the Department of Justice has an obligation to call attention to the contours of the rights enshrined in the federal Constitution and to counsel against arbitrary restrictions on liberty,” said Andrew Birge, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan.

“I have no doubt about the governor’s good intentions, but the Executive Orders arbitrarily discriminate by allowing some businesses to operate while similar businesses must close or limit their operations—and if they refuse, they face fines and possible jail time,” said Matthew Schneider, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, who, with Assistant Attorney General Dreiband, is overseeing the Justice Department’s effort to monitor state and local polices relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Under the Governor’s Orders, it’s ok to go to a hardware store and buy a jacket, but it’s a crime to go inside a clothing store and buy the identical jacket without making an appointment. That’s arbitrary. As important as it is that we stay safe during these challenging times, it is also important to remember that we do not abandon our freedoms and our dedication to the rule of law in times of emergency.”

In its statement of interest, the United States explains that the facts alleged by the plaintiffs could amount to violations of the Commerce Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

The federal case is Signature Sotheby’s International Realty, Inc., et al. v. Whitmer, No. 1:20-00360.

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Author: May 29, 2020