A local defense contractor agreed to pay a big fine after a former employee turned them in for alleged fraud.
That whistle blower walked away from his job to protect taxpayers, and he was not even a U.S. citizen at the time.
A U.S. Department of Defense contractor headquartered in a Lakeland office building has agreed to pay $320,000 to settle a whistle blower lawsuit that alleges it billed taxpayers for services it didn't provide.
Since 2012, People, Technology and Processes, or PTP, has received $22 million from government contracts.
But a federal whistle blower lawsuit settled this week alleges not all of that money was earned.
“It was just a matter of principal,” said accountant Aidan Toprakci, who was the relator who filed the lawsuit.
Toprakci says he discovered fraud while monitoring a contract that provided IT support for the US military in Afghanistan.
“Within my first month, I started to catch on to what was going on with the company and their records and it just didn't feel right,” Toprakci said.
Toprakci, a Turkish immigrant, says his employer ignored his concerns, so he quit and contacted whistle blower attorney Jillian Estes.
“He wasn't even an American citizen when he was doing this, but he saw fraud against the American taxpayers and said I don't want to be a part of that,” said Jillian Estes, who is an attorney with the Tampa-based James Hoyer Law Firm.
“These people are not honest. I knew that my livelihood would be affected. It has been affected and I was willing to take that risk,” said Topracki.
Toprakci provided evidence taxpayers were being bilked.
“They were submitting claims for people who were on vacation for a month, not even in Afghanistan,” said Estes, discussing the evidence in the case. “They were submitting bills for people who had already been fired by PTP and had left Afghanistan already and they continued to bill time for them. And they even submitted bills for people who hadn't started working for them yet,” she said.
We called and emailed PTP, but didn't get a response.
So we went to their office, where we were told neither CEO Victor Buonamia nor his daughter, CFO Nicole Buonamia, was available to respond.
Both parties were named in the lawsuit.
Estes says the case is significant.
“They're trying to send a message to other defense contractors that they're not going to turn a blind eye to this,” said Estes.
Even if it doesn't stop all fraud.
“We will unfortunately always have people who will want to game the system,” said Toprakci.
He will get to keep 20 percent of the amount collected by the federal government from the company as a reward for reporting the fraud.