The Consumer Protection Branch at the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is the federal law enforcement agency tasked with implementing a wide variety of laws across the country that are designed to protect people’s health, safety, finances, and identity. It has the authority to file both civil and criminal cases against alleged wrongdoers.
The potential for serious legal liability is very real if you are being investigated by the DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch. If you or your business is under scrutiny by this agency, it is very important to get an experienced defense lawyer on your side as quickly as possible. The defense attorneys at the national law firm Oberheiden P.C. can help.
The Consumer Protection Branch is in Charge of Numerous Federal Offenses
The DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch covers a lot of ground in the legal world. As their name implies, the Branch is in charge of enforcing laws that aim to protect consumers from a wide variety of harms, including:
- Unfair business practices
- Unsafe products
- Misleading or deceptive business strategies
- Invasions of privacy and misuse of customer data
- Healthcare and pharmaceutical fraud
These issues can be prosecuted under an even wider array of statutes, some of which are civil and some of which are criminal:
- False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. § 3729 – 3733)
- Anti-Kickback Statute (42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b)
- Physician Self-Referral Law (42 U.S.C. § 1395nn)
- Mail fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341)
- Wire fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1343)
- Bank fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1344)
- Healthcare fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1347)
- Computer fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1030)
- Identify theft and fraud (18 U.S.C. §§ 1028 and 1028A)
- Introduction of adulterated food with intent to defraud (21 U.S.C. §§ 331 and 342)
- Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA)
- Class Action Fairness Act
According to the agency, this gives them jurisdiction over some wide swaths of conduct, like:
- Prescription drugs and medical devices
- Food and dietary supplements
- Complex consumer fraud, including scams and elder fraud
- Deceptive trade practices
- Data privacy
- Veterans fraud
- Consumer product safety and tampering
- Tobacco products
In practice, the Consumer Protection Branch of the DOJ is as ubiquitous as it claims to be. To better illustrate just how broadly the Branch’s jurisdiction stretches, just a small sampling of its cases include:
- Pursuing a drug maker for violations of the FDCA for failing to provide documentation to investigators with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and for hiding and destroying documents (United States v. Fresenius Kabi Oncology, Ltd.)
- Pursuing a drug company under the FDCA for distributing unapproved, adulterated, and misbranded drugs for pets (United States v. AMARC Enterprises, et al.)
- Pursuing a group of pharmacists for healthcare fraud, conspiracy, misbranding of medication, and numerous counts of mail fraud for billing insurers for prescriptions that were known to not be issued under a valid doctor-patient relationship (United States v. Bolos, et al.)
- Pursuing a company for violations of the Consumer Product Safety Act for not timely notifying the Consumer Product Safety Commission about defects in the fire extinguishers that the company was manufacturing (United States v. Walter Kidde Portable Equipment, Inc.)
- Pursuing a marketing company for mail and wire fraud for selling personal information to other companies for elder fraud schemes (United States v. Epsilon Data Management, LLC)
Basically any company that makes or sells a product or service could potentially find themselves under investigation by the Consumer Protect Branch of the DOJ.
An Army of Investigators, Prosecutors, and Other Personnel
The DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch alone comprises over 200 attorneys, paralegals, support professionals, and law enforcement agents. Additionally, it is located within the DOJ’s main building at 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. in Washington, D.C., giving the Branch’s agents quick and easy access to the numerous other agencies and personnel within the Department of Justice.
The Branch Often Works With Other Agencies
That close proximity to other parts of the DOJ is frequently used by the Consumer Protection Branch. Many of the cases that it files are pursued in tandem with other government agencies, both inside and outside of the DOJ. Some common partnering agencies are the:
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
- United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
- United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS)
- Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
By combining with these other agencies to work on cases, the Consumer Protection Branch gets access to even more law enforcement resources and manpower. This lets the Branch file even more cases across the U.S. every year.
Some Frequently Asked Questions About the DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch
Does the Consumer Protection Branch File Civil or Criminal Cases?
The DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch can enforce the law through either civil or criminal actions. Which law is being invoked will determine when, or even if, the Branch can choose how to proceed.
A good example of this is healthcare fraud. The Consumer Protection Branch has numerous laws that it can use to punish people and companies for defrauding consumers. However, if the alleged fraud obtained money from a government program like Medicare or Medicaid, the Branch will usually move forward under the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act allows for both civil and criminal enforcement actions. However, in order to get a criminal conviction for making false claims for compensation against a government program, the DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch would have to show that there was an intent to defraud. If there was no intent, there can only be civil liability.
This is why some cases begin as civil or criminal but then develop into the other variety. For example, if the Consumer Protection Branch learns that a pharmacy is upcoding its bills for reimbursement from Medicare, it can conduct an investigation and file a civil case under the False Claims Act. If a deposition in that civil case reveals that there was a company policy to intentionally upcode the bills, the case could produce criminal charges for fraud.
What are the Penalties for a Conviction?
The penalties for a violation depend on the law being invoked as well as whether the law is being enforced through a civil or a criminal action.
Crimes are the only ones that can carry prison time. For some of the most serious criminal allegations that the Consumer Protection Branch can file, like wire fraud, prison sentences can be for up to 20 years. There can also be a criminal fine and other penalties, like probation, disgorgement of proceeds, and restitution payments.
Civil cases do not have the potential for a prison sentence, but the other sanctions can be very steep. For example, the False Claims Act imposes treble damages, or three times the amount that was received through the allegedly fraudulent conduct, as well as a civil penalty for each violation.
Why Doesn't Your Defense Team Call Itself the Best?
There are lots of rules that govern how law firms can claim an area of specialty. However, we prefer to let our case results and the experience of our lawyers do the talking for us. With the legal representation of our extensively experienced and highly skilled senior attorneys, our clients have fought back against groundless claims brought by the DOJ’s Consumer Protection Branch. In many cases, we have secured outright dismissals or have been able to persuade law enforcement officials to stop investigating our clients. In others, we have taken the case to trial and won. In all of them, we have advocated tirelessly on behalf of our clients and protected their rights and interests both inside and outside of the courtroom.
Defending Against Cases Brought by the Consumer Protection Branch
Given the wide breadth of cases that the Consumer Protection Branch can file against American companies and even foreign entities that do business in the United States, it is essential to get effective legal representation to avoid getting charged and to fight any allegations that are brought.
The criminal defense lawyers at Oberheiden P.C. can help.
Our attorneys all have extensive experience defending against federal law enforcement efforts, be they criminal or civil in nature. Many of our lawyers also have numerous years of experience as investigators and prosecutors at the DOJ, the FBI, or other federal law enforcement agencies. All of them are senior lawyers with whom you will deal exclusively. Our firm does not use junior attorneys or paralegals, so you know that all of your legal representation will come from a deeply experienced attorney.
Our main goal is to defend the interests of you and your business. If we cannot do that by helping your company come into compliance with the laws and regulations that the Consumer Protection Branch enforces, we aim to resolve the criminal charges or allegations as quickly as possible. In many cases, we have been able to terminate the case or get it dropped even before it was filed in court.
Contact us online or call our attorneys at (866) 603-4540 for legal help whenever and wherever you need it.