Judge: False Claims trial of Blackwater successor to go ahead as scheduled

A federal judge denied a private security firm’s request last week to delay a trial which claims the company overbilled the government and falsified firearms qualifications for U.S. State Department guards in Afghanistan.

Two whistleblowers and former marksmen, Lyle Beauchamp and Warren Shepherd, filed the False Claims Act lawsuit against Academi Training Center Inc., the private military contractor formerly known as Blackwater. Lawyers for Academi asked U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III for a six-week delay in the trial, claiming the outcome of another pending trial would have implications for the case. Judge Ellis on Thursday rejected that request without explanation.

Beauchamp and Shepherd filed the initial complaint nearly six years ago, in April 2011. Back then Academi was known as Xe Services LLC. The pair of marksmen claimed their former employer lied about work duties, invoicing the government for salaries of snipers who, in reality, worked in an office. One manager never went on a mission, they claimed, and services were billed for contractors who’d been disqualified because of failed drug tests, or for snipers who were not qualified.

In March 2013, the case was dismissed, but the pair appealed, focusing on falsified weapons certification claims. The men claimed they were not qualified to use the M-249 and M-240 belt-fed machine guns — weapons they were required to know how to use. They also claimed their certifications for the weapons were falsified. The court revived the suit in February 2016.

Beauchamp and Shepherd “allege that Academi violated the False Claims Act by routinely failing to test its personnel in Afghanistan with the M-240 and M-249 machine guns, fabricating scores on scorecards for its personnel, and knowingly submitting false records and improper demands for payment to the (Department of State),” read court documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The whistleblowers claim procedures were violated when protective service personnel were being trained by the Blackwater successor. They “often shot at targets that had already been shot up, and the instructors did not even attempt to count holes in the targets after each shooter,” according to court documents. In some cases, the trainees didn’t even shoot the weapons they were being tested for, according to the suit.

“Academi billed the State Department for the personnel despite knowing that they were not qualified,” they claim.

Attorneys for Academi wanted to push the trial back to May, but Judge Ellis’s ruling last week means it will go ahead as scheduled on March 21.

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