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Raytheon whistle-blower lawsuit revived

Raytheon Co. must face a decade-old whistle-blower lawsuit by a former engineer who claims the company cheated on a $1 billion government contract from 14 years ago by billing for erroneous and incomplete work for sensors used on satellites.

A U.S. appeals court said Monday that a lower court erred in dismissing the case on grounds that the ex-employee’s allegations were too similar to prior public reports about problems with Raytheon’s sensors.

Steven Mateski sued in 2006 under the False Claims Act, claiming Raytheon failed to meet contractual requirements, covered up its failures and improperly billed the government for work on a Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS, that’s part of a satellite system to collect meteorological, oceanographic, environmental and climatic data.

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The company said in an e-mailed statement that it remains confident it will prevail again when the case returns to the trial court.

“Raytheon maintained an open and transparent relationship with the government throughout our development of this key global technology,” according to the statement. “The VIIRS sensor is deployed and is providing valuable weather forecasting capabilities.”

The government declined to join Mateski’s case, according to Monday’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

“Even if, as Raytheon argues, the prior public reports provided ‘enough information to pursue an investigation’ into some fraud, and even though the government did in fact undertake some investigation of VIIRS, the prior reports could not have alerted the government to the specific areas of fraud alleged by Mateski,” the appeals panel said.

Raytheon in January said it had been awarded a $564 million contract for sensors for two additional satellites under the program. VIIRS collects imagery in 22 bands of light that allow scientists to observe emerging weather and climate patterns in “unprecedented detail,” according to the company’s January announcement.

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