Lawsuit: Leavenworth defrauded FEMA, illegally dumped sewage

(KSNT Photo/Brian Dulle)

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A whistleblower lawsuit accuses the city of Leavenworth of defrauding the federal government by claiming reimbursements for water pipe and bridge repairs that were damaged before the 2011 flood for which the money was designated.

The suit filed by a former assistant superintendent at the city’s wastewater treatment plant was unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas. Michele Coffman also alleges the plant illegally discarded waste directly into a nearby creek that runs into the Missouri River, and that truckloads of solid sewer waste were dumped on top of the ground behind the facility.

Coffman claims the city retaliated against her after she raised concerns over the practices, and is seeking back pay and other compensation. She worked for the city from August 2012 to October 2013.

City spokeswoman Melissa Bower declined to comment on the allegations Tuesday.

The case was initially filed under seal in October. The federal government declined to intervene earlier this month, although it’s not clear why. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas had no immediate comment.

The government did allow the whistleblower litigation to proceed in its name and requested that the suit be unsealed. The Justice Department, which is monitoring the case, reserved the right to intervene at a later date.

Under the False Claims Act, people with evidence of fraud against federal programs or contracts are allowed to sue on behalf of the federal government and can proceed on their own if the government declines to join the suit. A plaintiff can receive between 15 and 30 percent of anything recovered, although to be eligible for that money the whistleblower must file a lawsuit.

Coffman contends in her suit that the city presented false claims to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for water pipe and bridge repairs that were already damaged before the 2011 flood for which the FEMA funds were designated.

Her lawsuit also alleges the city defrauded the Department of the Army, Veterans Administration Medical Center and Bureau of Prisons by failing to comply with contract terms for sewage disposal and wastewater treatment services for their Leavenworth facilities. The suit contends the government would not have entered into the contracts with the city had it known about the extensive environmental violations and non-compliance with the contract terms.

Effluent was dumped directly into the creek behind the plant, which then runs into the Missouri River, the lawsuit claims. Contaminants in the water where the plant was dumping the sewage was measured as exceeding 2,000 times what the law allows, the suit says.

Solid sewer waste removed from the wastewater also was allegedly dumped on the ground behind the facility by the truckload. The suit contends that “unbeknownst to the local community” the contamination affects several businesses located near the dump sites. Rainwater also washes the exposed sewage into the creek bed that runs into the Missouri.

“And this area is not blocked off to keep people or animals out, nor to notify nor warn the community,” the lawsuit says.


Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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