Former CEO Derish Wolff of Louis Berger Group, one of the country’s largest engineer contracting firms will be confined to his home for a year and have to pay a $4.5 million fine for helping to defraud the federal government out of hundreds of millions of dollars over 20 years. The fine represents a tiny fraction of the amount the company collected from the government.
Wolff, 70, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Anne Thompson for leading a “conspiracy to defraud USAID by billing the agency on so-called ‘cost-reimbursable’ contracts—including hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts for reconstructive work in Iraq and Afghanistan” and for inflating overhead costs.
Federal prosecutors said the company, tasked with building roads and bridges in Afghanistan and Iraq, charged the government 140 percent of the actual cost for every project it did. That means that for every one dollar of work the contractor did, it received $1.40 extra. Louis Berger was paid more than $2 billon by the U.S. government for its infrastructure work in war zones.
Prosecutors said that between 1990 and 2009, Wolff and his colleagues inflated the costs of their work for USAID by telling accountants to “pad time sheets with hours ostensibly devoted to federal government projects when it had not actually worked on such projects.”
Beyond logging false work hours, the prosecutor said Wolff routinely instructed his subordinates to bill USAID for all of their overhead expenses—like rent at Louis Berger’s Washington office even though the D.C. office worked on other projects that had nothing to do with the federal government.
After two other company executives pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the federal government in 2010, Louis Berger Group agreed to make full restitution to USAID. It settled civil and criminal charges and had to pay $18.7 million in criminal fines and an additional $50.6 million to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by significantly overbilling USAID.
The leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have all proposed increasing taxes on corporations, including raising income tax rates to levels ranging from 25% to 35%, up from the current 21% imposed by the Republican tax cuts in 2017. With Bernie Sanders leading the way at $3.9 trillion, here’s how much revenue the higher proposed corporate taxes, along with additional proposed surtaxes and reduced tax breaks, would generate over a decade, according to calculations by the right-leaning Tax Foundation, highlighted Wednesday by Bloomberg News.
The federal government’s total non-defense discretionary spending – which covers everything from education and national parks to veterans’ medical care and low-income housing assistance – equals 3.2% of GDP in 2020, near historic lows going back to 1962, according to an analysis this week from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimated this week that President Trump has now signed legislation that will add a total of $4.7 trillion to the national debt between 2017 and 2029. Tax cuts and spending increases account for similar portions of the projected increase, though if the individual tax cuts in the 2017 Republican overhaul are extended beyond their current expiration date at the end of 2025, they would add another $1 trillion in debt through 2029.
Are interest rates destined to move higher, increasing the cost of private and public debt? While many experts believe that higher rates are all but inevitable, historian Paul Schmelzing argues that today’s low-interest environment is consistent with a long-term trend stretching back 600 years.
The chart “shows a clear historical downtrend, with rates falling about 1% every 60 years to near zero today,” says Bloomberg’s Aaron Brown. “Rates do tend to revert to a mean, but that mean seems to be declining.”
Lawmakers are considering three separate bills that are intended to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. Here’s an overview of the proposals, from a series of charts produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation this week. An interesting detail highlighted in another chart: 88% of voters – including 92% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans – want to give the government the power to negotiate prices with drug companies.