Central Coast company fraud against Veterans Administration
May 16, 2015
A Santa Maria company paid a $1 million settlement and agreed to close down on May 11 after its owner was accused of falsely claiming the company was a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) in order to obtain landscaping and cemetery restoration contracts with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The contracts had been set aside for disabled veterans.
The $1 million payment represents virtually all of Veterans of the Land’s assets.
From 2008 to 2013, Veterans of the Land obtained contracts with the Veterans Administration under the SDVOSB program to provide landscaping and cemetery restoration services at various U.S. National Cemeteries, including Riverside National Cemetery. There are no allegation that the services provided by the company were improperly performed.
The Veterans Administration started investigating the Santa Maria landscaping company after a routine audit of SDVOSB contractors raised concerns about the company. To qualify as an SDVOSB, the veteran must actually control the company.
Investigators said Veterans of the Land co-owner Robert Laurel allegedly recruited a relative, Enrique Escamilla, who is a service-disabled veteran, to partner in the company. But Escamilla lived in Hawaii, allegedly spent much of his time there, and Laurel allegedly made all important corporate decisions, including leasing equipment from another company that he owned.
“This settlement vindicates and protects the interests of legitimate service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses by ensuring the integrity of the Veteran Administration’s contracting program that supports these businesses,” said Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura. “Veterans who contract with the government must be assured that there is a fair playing field.”