Learning Tree Settles DOJ Improper Billing Complaint

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Learning Tree International, an IT and management training firm, has agreed to pay US$4.5 million to settle a complaint by the U.S. Department of Justice that the company improperly invoiced U.S. government agencies in advance for IT training courses and kept federal funds for courses that were never provided, the DOJ said Wednesday.

Learning Tree's settlement resolves allegations it violated the False Claims Act, the DOJ said in a press release. The company, based in Reston, Virginia, sells IT training courses to the federal government through a contract with the U.S. General Services Administration.

Under that contact, Learning Tree offers IT training packages called vouchers or passports. The GSA contract required that Learning Tree invoice the government only after services were provided, in an effort to prevent agencies from paying for services that were not delivered, the DOJ said.

The settlement resolves allegations that Learning Tree knowingly invoiced federal agencies in advance for multi-course training packages before employees of the purchasing agencies had attended the full number of courses available, the DOJ said.

The DOJ also alleged that Learning Tree kept funds it received in connection with unused courses without providing refunds or credits.

"Government contractors must deal fairly and honestly with the United States," Tony West, assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Civil Division, said in a statement. "When federal funds are being misused, we will take action to protect the taxpayers."

Learning Tree believes it complied with the terms of the GSA contract, but "it makes no sense to continue a dispute with one of our best customers," said Nick Schacht, CEO of Learning Tree.

The DOJ investigation of Learning Tree is about two years old, and questions about billing practices dated back to 1996, Schacht said. Learning Tree has had a series of training contracts with GSA since 1996, he said.

Even as the investigation went on, the U.S. government "continued to send tens of thousands of attendees to our courses each year," he added. Learning Tree expects to continue its "long and mutually beneficial" relationship with the U.S. government, he said.

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