This article by Karen Jowers originally appeared on Military Times, the nation's largest independent newsroom dedicated to covering the military and veteran community.
Hunt Companies officials have agreed to pay $500,000 to resolve allegations of fraud involving its military housing operations at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, under a settlement reached with the Justice Department.
Government officials allege the company submitted false information to the Air Force about the completion of work orders between January 2013 and June 2019 in order to get higher performance incentive payouts, according to documents filed in federal court in Delaware. The government’s claims were partly based on a whistleblower lawsuit filed in January 2020 by a former employee of Hunt.
The whistleblower, Christine Kibler, was community director for the housing at Dover AFB, and her responsibilities included operational and financial oversight of the housing. She worked there from April to June 2019, when she was fired, according to court documents.
“When companies put service members’ welfare at risk to maximize profit, they cheat the government as well as everyone who serves our country. We will not tolerate such disappointing conduct,” said David Weiss, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware, in a statement announcing the settlement.
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According to Hunt’s website, it is the largest owner of military housing in the U.S., with about 52,000 homes spread across more than 40 military installations, to include Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps bases.
While Kibler worked at the housing community for just a few months, “what she experienced deeply disturbed her,” according to the original complaint.
As part of her duties, Kibler inspected homes that were being prepared for new residents and found problems such as mold, fire safety and ventilation issues, and water leaks, according to the court documents. But instead of addressing the problems, company employees falsified service tickets to indicate the issues had been fixed, she alleged. Those tickets were submitted to the Air Force to ensure the company would continue to get monetary performance incentives, she alleged.
When she brought up her concerns with a company official in June 2019, Kibler didn’t receive any feedback, she stated. She offered to send a spreadsheet of the information she had collected, but the official told her he didn’t want it and “firmly” told her not to put her concerns in an email. On June 17, 2019, Kibler was fired because she “was not the right fit,” according to the court documents.
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The fraud case settlement is not an admission of guilt by Hunt officials, nor is it a concession by the government or the whistleblower that the claims are unfounded.
The court settlement document states that no agreement has been reached regarding whether Kibler will receive any money from the settlement.
Hunt Military Communities a subsidiary of Hunt Companies, cooperated fully with the Department of Justice throughout the DOJ investigation, which started in January 2020, according to a statement that Hunt officials provided to Military Times. “The civil settlement agreement with the DOJ makes clear that the settlement ‘is not an admission of liability’ and that HMC ‘expressly denies the allegations’ underlying the settlement. The DOJ has confirmed that its investigation is now closed.”
“Our main priority is serving our military families as well as our partners with honesty, integrity and transparency,” said Brian Stann, president of Hunt Military Communities, in the statement. “We are pleased to have resolved this investigation and to start the New Year off with a renewed sense of passion and purpose for serving our residents.”
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