A West Allis nonprofit that operates nationwide has agreed to pay $1.9 million to the federal government after a whistleblower exposed it for repackaging Chinese products and claiming they had been made by visually impaired Americans.
Such claims helped Industries for the Blind and Visually Impaired earn the agency Ability One certification, a major advantage in winning contracts with government agencies like the U.S. Navy and Air Force.
Paul Inzeo, the company’s former marketing manager, filed a False Claims Act action against it in 2015, saying Industries for the Blind had lost its way and become a multimillion-dollar enterprise “designed to enrich its officers at the expense of the very people it was created to help.”
Inzeo’s attorney, Brian Mahany of Milwaukee, said, “Exploiting the blind to perpetrate a scheme to defraud the government is among the most outrageous conduct I have seen in a decade of whistleblower cases.”
Industries for the Blind, Inc., started in 1953 and changed its name in 2018 to Industries for the Blind and Visually Impaired. According to its website, it has manufacturing operations in West Allis, Menomonee Falls and Janesville, and 75% of its workforce is legally blind. Inzeo’s suit suggested the figure is far lower.
In a statement Tuesday, president and CEO C.J. Lange said IBVI worked with the Justice Department and found that none of the initial claims raised by Inzeo were valid, but that it discovered two employees who were “engaged in inappropriate activity” and were fired.
“These settlement negotiations have provided an opportunity for us to strengthen our relationship and trust with the United States government, while also ensuring that our staff is working towards our mission of blind employment.”