DALLAS--()--Four years after he first filed his lawsuit, former Lockheed Martin employee Michael J. DeKort settled allegations against the company for an unspecified sum yesterday.
“In September of 2006, seven months before the Congressional Hearing on Deepwater problems, I filed the lawsuit that we have settled.”
The settlement was approved late yesterday by Court Order in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas after an agreement in principle was reached only 2 days before the whistleblower trial was to begin on October 29, 2010, against Integrated Coast Guard Systems, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, Inc.
“We are pleased with the confidential agreement with Lockheed Martin and are vigorously pursuing the unsettled claims against Integrated Coast Guard Systems and Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, Inc. on behalf of the United States and our client,” says national whistleblower litigation expert Samuel L. Boyd of Boyd & Associates, a former U.S. Army Green Beret veteran, who worked as co-lead counsel with nationally regarded litigator Jim Helmer of Helmer, Martins, Rice and Popham, Co., L.P.A. of Cincinnati, Ohio on the case. “If we win for the United States, we win for our client.”
Quoting from part of the agreed-upon statement, Mr. DeKort of Louisville, Kentucky says:
“The case involves converting the Coast Guard’s 110-foot patrol boats to 123-foot patrol boats as part of the “Deepwater” program. Lockheed Martin was assigned the work for installing new electrical equipment [C4ISR] that was used for communications and navigation.
“I was an employee of Lockheed Martin from 1992 through 2006. My involvement with Deepwater began in July 2003 when I joined the program, and I was assigned to be the Lead Systems Engineer for project.
“I encountered a number of issues that concerned me. I originally raised the issues internally. I pursued my complaints through the Inspector General of the United States Department of Homeland Security. I later assisted Congress in its investigation of the “Deepwater” performance problems that were reported to the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. I worked closely with the Committee’s Investigator and was the lead witness at the Committee’s April 18, 2007 investigative hearing.
“In September of 2006, seven months before the Congressional Hearing on Deepwater problems, I filed the lawsuit that we have settled.
“Shortly before the jury trial was scheduled to begin, I reached an agreement with Lockheed Martin to settle the case against Lockheed Martin, only. This avoided the uncertainty and expense of litigation against it. The agreement specifies that neither party will disclose the terms of the settlement. I am continuing to pursue all of my claims against Northrop Grumman and ICGS, the prime contractor.”
Mr. DeKort’s continuing case against the non-settling parties also involves the same multi-billion dollar Deepwater contract, which was intended to provide the United States Coast Guard with an improved fleet of boats and aircraft to protect America after the 9/11 attacks.
The contract was awarded to Integrated Coast Guard Systems - a new entity and a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. ICGS agreed to convert the Coast Guard’s forty-nine 110-foot patrol boats to 123-foot patrol boats, to extend the vessels’ service for an additional 15 years.
Soon after the first eight boats were delivered to the Coast Guard, the newly configured 123 foot patrol boats’ hulls began buckling and the shafts began misaligning, creating an unacceptable danger to the Coast Guard crews and the boats.
In 2005, the Coast Guard suspended the conversion of the remaining patrol boats for safety reasons. The United States Coast Guard paid Integrated Coast Guard Systems $96.1 million for the work converting the first eight 123 foot boats.
On May 17, 2007 the Coast Guard demanded a return of the $96.1 million that it had paid for the eight unseaworthy vessels. In 2007, the Coast Guard decommissioned the boats, because they were determined to be unsafe. Coast Guard witnesses have characterized the boats as “scrap.”
Mr. DeKort filed his original whistleblower suit in September 2006, and is continuing the case against ICGS and Northrop Grumman to enable the United States to recover a minimum of the $96.1 million demanded by the Coast Guard.
On October 27, 2010 (two days before trial), Mr. DeKort reached the settlement with Lockheed Martin, only. That evening the whistleblower’s remaining claims against Northrop Grumman and Integrated Coast Guard Systems were dismissed by the U.S. District Court, on the basis that the his allegations against those parties regarding the non-performing 123 foot WPB patrol boats were a result of Public Disclosures of the claims, not from his personal own knowledge.
On December 1, 2010, all claims against Lockheed Martin were dismissed by the District Court, which approved the settlement between the whistleblower and Lockheed Martin.
Mr. DeKort has requested that the District Court reconsider its ruling that dismissed the claims against the other two parties. The Court has not yet ruled on the motion.
If unsuccessful at the District Court level, the whistleblower will appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, to have the claims against Integrated Coast Guard Systems and Northrop Grumman reinstated.
Both of the plaintiff’s law firms have handled substantial qui tam cases, representing whistleblowers suing on behalf of the United States and state governments.