Lucent to pay $4.2M over Iraq 911 system testing

SEATTLE — A French-owned telecommunications company has agreed to pay $4.2 million to settle a whistleblower’s lawsuit over the testing of a 911-style emergency response system in Iraq, the Justice Department said Friday.

Lucent Technologies World Services Inc., a subsidiary of Alcatel-Lucent, was awarded a $250 million U.S. Army contract to build the system for Baghdad and 15 other cities in 2004.

The project’s former manager, Geoffrey Willson, said in a lawsuit in federal court in Seattle that Lucent lied to the U.S. government when it claimed to have completed testing of the system’s radio transmission sites and of the network as a whole. Willson alleged that Lucent falsely certified that the testing had been done in an attempt to get paid more quickly, and that the company’s performance was a factor in an $8.5 million bonus it received.

He brought the lawsuit on behalf of the U.S. government and as the whistleblower keeps a substantial chunk of the payout: $758,000. Lucent did not admit wrongdoing.

“The United States must be able to count upon government contractors to seek payment only for services performed in conformance with their contractual obligations,” Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a written statement. “That is particularly true of contractors performing work for the United States in ‘hot spots’ around the globe where verification of invoiced work can be both difficult and dangerous.”

There were no allegations made that the emergency communications system failed to work properly.

Lucent hired Willson, a Seattle attorney, in 2004 to work in Baghdad as senior contract manager on the project. He was fired a year and a half later in retaliation for complaining to the company about its actions, he said in his lawsuit. At the time he was fired, he was on vacation in England, and the company declined to provide him transportation home, said his lawyer, Stephen Teller of Seattle.

“My client was pretty courageous as a whistleblower, and he suffered a lot as a result of it,” Teller said.

Willson did not immediately return a call and an email seeking comment.

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