Rensselaerville Institute settles False Claims Act charge for $87K

ALBANY COUNTY — After receiving a disproportionately large payroll loan and neglecting to return the extra money, the Rensselaerville Institute has elected to pay $86,676 in damages and civil penalties as part of a settlement agreement, according to a United States Department of Justice press release

Rensselaerville Institute Director of Operations Tamara Chalvire declined to comment.

The Rensselaerville Institute is an Albany-based not-for-profit that laid the groundwork for the Carey Institute in Rensselaerville and now focuses on education initiatives while the Carey Institute, which is a fully separate entity, carries on the organization's earlier, globally-oriented mission. 

According to the Department of Justice release, a now-former Rensselaerville Institute official had applied for a $500,000 Paycheck Protection Program Loan in 2020 — as part of the suite of financial cushioning handed down by the federal government in response to the coronavirus pandemic — despite having an average monthly payroll that was less than $500,000. 

That official had been provided payroll data by the organization’s then-chief financial officer, the release states, and afterward the CFO had emailed other institute officials to express concern about what was then only thought to be a  potentially inaccurate application. 

“I have not received a copy of the PPP application,” the CFO wrote, according to the release. “I am hopeful it was not actually submitted … [because] … it would be better if we don’t have a federal loan application floating out there for more money than we were entitled to.”

Later that year and after the extra money was received, the release says, an outside firm contracted for an audit had realized the error and, in notifying The Rensselaerville Institute, advised that it return the excess money; instead, a third official (who, unlike the others, was not specified to be no longer working for the institute) applied for full forgiveness of the inflated loan in January of 2021. 

Ultimately, the United States Small Business Administration determined that it would leave $86,676 of the loan unforgiven. As part of the agreement, the institute will repay the private lender that mediated the federal loan the excess amount in addition to paying an equal amount in damages and penalties, the release states. 

It also says that the criminal case originated with a whistleblower complaint filed under seal in August 2021, and that the whistleblower will receive $17,000 of the settlement. 

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