A Christian legal group is seeking to have a lawsuit reinstated against Planned Parenthood (PP) affiliates in California, which allegedly obtained funds fraudulently from the government.
According to P. Victor Gonzalez, the former PP employee that the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is representing in this case, PP affiliates in California had marked up the supposed cost of various birth control drugs when seeking government reimbursement, resulting in tens of millions of dollars of overbilling-at taxpayer expense.
Under the federal False Claims Act (FCA), government contractors are forbidden from submitting "false or fraudulent" claims for payment. The FCA also authorizes private individuals to bring suit against the offenders to recover the fraudulently obtained funds, as Gonzalez had done.
Attorneys from the law firm representing PP defendants, however, were able to convince the federal district court to dismiss Gonzalez's suit on technical jurisdictional grounds, arguing that he was not an "original source" as he learned of the overbilling when he heard about a government audit, among other reasons.
But ACLJ attorneys insist that Gonzalez is a paradigm whistleblower and an "original source" under the FCA.
"Gonzalez was personally and intimately aware of the PP defendants' illegal overbilling. As part of an inner circle of high-ranking officers at PP affiliates, Gonzalez from the get-go observed – indeed participated in – the intra-PP response to the DHS audit," wrote ACLJ attorneys in their 69-page opening appeal brief, filed Tuesday in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Court.
"He was personally responsible for the review of PPLA's records and the preparation of 'cost impact information' regarding the extent and magnitude of the overbilling," they added. "He also supervised the preparation of a detailed spreadsheet on the overbilling and drafted recommendations for a remedial course of action."
In comments made after the opening appeal brief was filed, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, said the basic question at this point is whether the former PP employee is a proper whistleblower under FCA.
"The answer is 'Yes,'" he affirmed. "The ACLJ brief dissects and refutes the arguments of PP's attorneys point by point, explaining why the court of appeals should reverse the lower court's judgment and reinstate the lawsuit.
"No one should be permitted to scam the public treasury for profit," Sekulow added. "The FCA was designed to remedy such illegal runs on taxpayer money."
Though Planned Parenthood touts itself as America's most trusted provider of reproductive health care, the organization is often a center of controversy in the United States as it performs approximately 1 in 4 abortions.
According to the organization's 2007-2008 annual report, a record high 305,310 abortions were performed at PP facilities in 2007 while the number of prenatal clients decreased to 10,914.
Furthermore, the number of abortions performed at PP facilities continues to increase despite the national decrease in the number of abortions in recent years, critics note.
What also upsets critics is the fact that Planned Parenthood receives about a third of its money in government grants and contracts. Some pro-life organizations have lobbied federal lawmakers to halt government funding for Planned Parenthood, which has a total budget of approximately $1 billion and has about 880 clinic locations in the United States.
Planned Parenthood is also heavily sponsored by private individuals, with over 700,000 active individual contributors.