LANSING, Mich. (WILX) – A Lansing-based research and development company paid $ 500,000 to resolve allegations the company violated federal false claims law in order to secure US military contracts.
Metna Co. has been accused of covering up its use of underpaid foreign graduate students to secure Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts from the military. US attorney Andrew Birge alleged the students were not eligible to work at Metna under their visa restrictions.
The SBIR program encourages U.S. companies to engage in federally funded research and development with the potential to be commercialized. The goal, according to Birge, is to stimulate high-tech innovation that meets the needs of government while fostering entrepreneurs.
The military’s SBIR proposal required applicants to declare any foreign nationals working on the project. These disclosures are part of the military’s verification process and are said to have triggered a review of the foreign national’s visa work authorizations, compliance with visa work restrictions, and any risks associated with accessing new technology funded by the foreign national. US government.
The government alleged that Metna falsely certified that it did not use foreign nationals to work on SBIR proposals when in fact much of the work was done by graduate foreign students. According to the government, false information was also provided to MSU by Metna, including the number of hours students would work at Metna during the academic year so that students could keep their F-1 visas.
These students, the government says, were also paid “substantially less” than the hourly rate Metna told the military in its contract budget proposals. They say Metna budgeted but didn’t include a number of third-party consultants. Additionally, they say Metna’s lead investigator – the person responsible for administering the military’s contracts – did not actually fulfill that role while the projects were underway.
Now Metna has paid $ 500,000 to resolve the allegations. In addition, the president of Metna agreed to a two-year government-wide exclusion from federal contracts and financial aid.
US Attorney Birge said: âThe SBIR program involves intense competition for a limited pool of funds. Exploiting international students and then making false claims to compete with deserving and eligible small businesses are exactly the kind of allegations we should all be concerned about. These regulations reflect my office’s commitment to ensuring that taxpayer dollars spent on this vital economic program go to deserving and eligible small businesses.
This case was investigated by several agencies, including the US Army Criminal Investigation Command, US Department of Energy, Office of Inspector General, US Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, Defense Criminal Investigative Service , the Defense Contract Audit Agency, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of the Inspector General, Homeland Security Investigations, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan .
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