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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 19th, 2015, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 16, Issue 11 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 16, Issue 11

Santa Maria company dissolves after paying $1 million in fines

By DAVID MINSKY

A Santa Maria landscaping company paid $1 million to the federal government to settle an allegation that it fraudulently obtained federal contracts by claiming ownership by a disabled veteran.

Acting U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California Stephanie Yonekura announced on May 15 that Veterans of the Land shelled out the hefty civil penalty after investigators discovered that the company wasn’t what it appeared.

Authorities from the federal government said Veterans of the Land violated the False Claims Act from 2008 to 2013 by stating it was a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) in order to secure landscaping and cemetery restoration contracts at several U.S. National Cemeteries, including the Riverside National Cemetery.

The Department of Veterans Affairs began investigating the company following a routine audit. According Yonekura, the company’s owner, Robert Laurel, allegedly recruited a relative, who’s a disabled veteran, to be a partner in the company.

In order to qualify for SDVOSB contracts, the disabled veteran must be the controlling partner in the company. Investigators found that Laurel’s relative, Enrique Ecamilla, lived in Hawaii and spent much of his time there.

Officials from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said that Laurel controlled all aspects of the company, including allegedly making all business decisions and even leasing equipment from another company that he owned.

Despite the alleged false claim, the OIG said there’s no evidence that the services Laurel provided were improperly performed. Laurel couldn’t be reached for comment. The phone number to the company came up as disconnected.

U.S. officials said the $1 million payment was made on May 11, and it represents virtually all of the company’s assets. As a part of the settlement, the company agreed to close up shop and no longer be in business.

“The settlement demonstrates the OIG’s continued commitment to aggressively pursue individuals and companies that misrepresent themselves as service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses and deny legitimate disabled veterans the opportunity to compete for VA contracts,” said Douglas J. Carver, special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in a press release.










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