MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - An Alabama veteran's four year fight to expose the truth is finally over. After a long court battle, he has been rewarded for shedding light on alleged wrongdoing by a once massive government contractor.
Blake Percival uncovered a national scandal when he blew the whistle on a former contractor accused of mishandling more than 660,000 background checks for federal job applicants- the same company that performed background probes on Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter.
His efforts revealed serious flaws in the United States security clearance system.
Percival says his decision to do the right thing cost him his career with U.S. Investigations Services (USIS), the government's former leading security clearance contractor.
"But it was the right thing to do," he said.
The 49-year-old Montgomery man has just received a $6 million settlement in the case.
Percival is a Wetumpka native who served in the Army and as a former bailiff for the Montgomery Municipal Court and police officer at Baptist Health and AUM Police Department.
Shortly after finishing college, he went to work for USIS, a company that was contracted by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to do national security background investigations. Percival worked his way up within the company and ten years in, found himself being promoted to the position of Director of Fieldwork Services in Western Pennsylvania in 2011.
Shortly after arriving there and working as an executive, he discovered that the company was not delivering to the United States government what the government was paying for.
"USIS was being paid by the federal government to conduct national security background investigations on applicants for federal positions and people that needed security clearances and USIS was delivering cases as if they had been conducted that had never been investigated or that had been partially investigated and they were receiving full payment for it," Percival said.
He was ordered to take part in the fraudulent activity and submit incomplete files, which was internally referred to as "dumping."
"I refused and I had 350 subordinates and I told them that as of that moment, we don't 'dump.' That put me on a collision course with management and within just a few months I was terminated," he explained. "When I saw a company that was placing profit above our national security, I couldn't believe it. I couldn't stand for it or sit by and watch it go on."
The father of four moved back to Alabama with his family and filed a "Qui Tam" lawsuit under the provisions of the False Claims Act in July 2011. At first, Percival wasn't looking to be a whistleblower. He turned to Beasley Allen, a national law firm located in Montgomery, to discuss the fraud that was occurring with USIS. From there, a lawsuit was filed and Beasley Allen started litigating on his behalf.
Originally, the Beasley Allen Law Firm filed the lawsuit in United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama and the case was subsequently transferred to United States District Court in Washington, D.C. Once it was transferred, the government continued its investigation and eventually, USIS and its parent company, Altegrity, filed for bankruptcy. Once the bankruptcy filing occurred, the government became reluctant to proceed with the case. Beasley Allen pushed the government to go forward because matters of fraud are not discharged in bankruptcy.
"I think the government thought there was no practical way of recovering any of the millions of dollars that USIS had bilked the government out of and by virtue of continuing to argue and lobby that this is one of the biggest national security frauds in American history, we were able to reach the result that we did in this case," said Larry Golston, Percival's attorney with the Beasley Allen Law Firm. "We had security background checks not being done and lives endangered and just the public policy arguments along with the legal arguments convinced them that this was a fight worth continuing to fight."
As he waited for the court case to play out, Percival had several jobs. He stocked shelves in grocery stores, served as city magistrate, and worked as a contracted federal investigator doing background checks for CACI, a competitor of USIS. He also worked as a legal assistant to 12 federal judges that make decisions on social security disability claims.
Golston says Percival is one of the most important whistleblowers in recent American history.
"What he did took a lot of courage and he should be applauded for his efforts in coming forward and revealing what was going on at USIS. We, as a country, are safer because of what he did," Golston added. "He uncovered a very large national scandal with, at the time, the nation's largest background security company with respect to doing security checks for the federal government."
The Department of Justice finalized a $30,000,000 settlement with USIS and Percival received 20% for his part after a four year fight in court. His share was disbursed Friday.
The U.S. government has ceased doing business with USIS and the shakeup Percival initiated has led to significant changes in the matter in which background investigations are conducted. Federal officials say the case sheds light on the importance of whistleblowers.
"At times, throughout all of this, I questioned whether it was worth it but I've always been one that believed that if you're doing the right thing and the facts are on your side and you never back down, you're going to win," Percival said.
Now, he plans to do speaking engagements and write a book. He feels he has an obligation to share his story "about a good guy winning" and hopes it sends a message to others about integrity, ethics and character. As a father, he wanted to set the right example for his children first and foremost. He says he wanted them to see that someone can do the right thing and still be victorious.
"I made the decision that led to all of this in a matter of seconds. I didn't even have to think about it. I'm very thankful for the way I was raised and the beliefs that have been instilled in me that I didn't even have to think about it," Percival added. "It's not always about what you get at the end by winning. It's that you played the game the right way and for me, that's what it has always been about. I always cared more about what my children and my family thought of me."