The investigative team in a federal qui tam case will include at least one Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) (local federal prosecutor), one Trial Attorney from Justice Department’s Civil Division in Washington, D.C., and one or more federal agents, usually from the Inspector General’s Office of the agency that was allegedly defrauded, or from the FBI or Postal Inspection Service, which investigate fraud affecting any government agency. If your allegations suggest that there may have been criminal activity, then an AUSA assigned to the Criminal Division may attend the meeting. (Many federal agents, such as FBI agents, have both criminal and civil investigative authority).
Once the team is assigned and its members have had the opportunity to review your complaint and disclosure, the attorney assigned to the case will contact your qui tam attorney and schedule an in-person meeting with you, your attorney, and the investigative team.
In advance of the meeting, your qui tam attorney will meet with you to prepare. The meeting may include a presentation of your evidence and allegations by your attorney, followed by an introduction of you and giving you an opportunity to tell your story directly to the government. Other government attorneys prefer to question the relator in detail about their allegations, specific documents and evidence, their background, and why they decided to come forward as a whistleblower. Once again, an experienced qui tam attorney should have a strong sense of what the AUSA’s preferred procedure is, and your attorney may have discussed a game plan for the meeting with the AUSA in advance.
Regardless of how the AUSA decides to conduct the relator meeting, you and your attorney need to make sure that the “first impression” has been a good one, and that the government attorneys and investigators are interested in your case, think that your allegations are serious and supported by hard evidence, and consider you a credible witness. At a minimum, you as the relator should be very familiar with all of the allegations made in the complaint and with the most important documents included in the disclosure. You should be prepared to answer questions yourself, and not rely on your attorney to “buffer” you from the investigative team.
Because you are bringing the case on behalf of the government, you and the government are very much “on the same side” during this part of the case (and, one hopes, throughout). At the same time, the attorneys and agents may ask hard questions which come across as skeptical or even hostile. This is a matter of style, but the purpose of these questions is to test your allegations, and your own credibility, to make sure that the case “holds up” under scrutiny. Remember, the attorneys and agents on the investigative team will be reporting the results of the meeting to their supervisors, and those supervisors will decide what resources to assign to investigate your case. Eventually, higher-ups will be making a decision whether to intervene in your case or not. In qui tam cases, “first impressions” can be lasting ones. Your experienced qui tam attorney will make great efforts to make sure yours is a positive one.