New Orleans archdiocese settling whistleblower suit for $1M
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Archdiocese of New Orleans has agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit claiming that it inflated damage estimates for federal recovery money after Hurricane Katrina, a newspaper reported.
Federal bankruptcy Judge Meredith Grabill approved the terms Tuesday, according to The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate.
The agreement calls for paying $1.05 million over two years to the U.S. Department of Justice, with the whistleblower and his lawyers getting as much as $262,500 of that.
The archdiocese “expressly denies” the allegations by Robert Romero, a former project manager at the California-based engineering firm AECOM, court papers noted.
Neither an archdiocese spokeswoman nor its lawyer immediately responded to emailed requests for comment on Thursday.
The archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2020 after being sued by a number of people who say they were sexually abused by priests.
The whistleblower suit filed in 2016 — 11 years after Hurricane Katrina slammed New Orleans — claimed that the church got $46 million more than it should have from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for damages at a church-run school and an assisted living center.
Romero accused a co-worker of helping the archdiocese and two private universities defraud the government out of more than $100 million.
Xavier University agreed to pay $12 million.
The U.S. Justice Department, which had joined the suit, dismissed Romero’s co-worker and Dillard University as defendants, saying further prosecution wasn’t worth it. Dillard was accused of $15 million in fraudulent claims,
AECOM, which received about $300 million, appears to be the last remaining defendant in the case, the newspaper reported.
The firm has said it always stayed within FEMA guidelines.
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