A recent settlement approved by a California judge has rewarded the Stanislaus County Office of Education with $164,271 from Office Depot, after the store was found to have violated the California False Claims Act by overcharging California government entities for office and classroom supplies.
“The law firm that we work with originally approached us along with the San Joaquin Office of Education to provide some support to the other entities involved,” said SCOE deputy superintendent of business services Donald Gatti. “We are very pleased that we prevailed.”
According to the CFCA, violators include those who “knowingly present or cause to be presented a false or fraudulent claim for payment.” The original plaintiff of the lawsuit, former Office Depot employee David Sherwin, alleged that that the store did just that, as it was fraudulently charging California government entities more than it should have.
As was written in the settlement agreement, Office Depot violated the CFCA in a number of ways, including misrepresenting or omitting material information regarding pricing plans, using incorrect costs in calculating cost-based pricing, changing list prices without authorization, and discontinuing or manipulating items on the “core lists” of products.
Furthermore, the plaintiff cited that Office Depot breached the “Most Favored Public Entity” pricing subsection included in the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance Master Agreement, which states that if a contractor’s prices decline or if it provides the same goods or services to other entities at a lower price, the lower prices should also include California government entities.
Instead of honoring the agreement, Office Depot was found to have offered some entities a lower discount than others, thus not providing the best possible prices for all government entities.
After Sherwin filed the lawsuit on behalf of the State of California, 19 public entities, including SCOE, filed a complaint in intervention. Other entities involved in the suit include the County of Santa Clara, which received $3 million from the settlement, and the City of Los Angeles, which received the largest allocation at $11,661,827.37.
Additionally, more than one thousand cities, counties, school districts and other government entities throughout the state who did not file a complaint in intervention will also receive a portion of the $68.5 million settlement.
“We hoped that by joining in the lawsuit, that we could help them be successful,” said Gatti. “I think that having two county offices serve as plaintiffs along with the other districts that were plaintiffs adds a little more credibility to their side.”