Enid whistleblower to receive more than $3 million


Thursday, December 23rd 2004, 11:22 am
By: News On 6


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An Enid lawyer will receive more than $3 million for blowing the whistle on a bank that allegedly inflated interest rates on federally guaranteed loans.

Roger Ediger became a lawyer after being forced out of farming by rising debt. He sued Gold Banc Corp. Inc. and the federal government intervened in the case because the lawsuit accused the Kansas-based bank of submitting false claims for payment to the United States.

Gold Banc paid the federal government $16 million in November to settle the case, while denying wrongdoing and saying it wanted to avoid costly litigation.

As the whistleblower, Ediger was legally entitled to 15 to 25 percent of the settlement. After day-long negotiations, Ediger and the U.S. Attorney's Office agreed Tuesday to a 19.1 percent award, or $3,056,000.

Ediger, 50, said that he realized when he was a farmer that his loan rates seemed to be high, but didn't realize until he became a law clerk that he might be able to make a strong legal case over the issue under the federal False Claims Act.

``I closed the door, and I just like felt a cold chill come over my body,'' Ediger, 50, said about his reaction when he discovered the federal statute.

``When you sue, on behalf of the federal government, a $4 billion financial institution, it's not without a little bit of fear and trepidation,'' Ediger said. ``It was frankly, at times, frightening.

``We were certain that the facts were right, but you also have to be able to prove that legally. I also knew ultimately that there were hundreds of farmers that had been charged interest rates that were too high, and they were suffering as a result of it.''

In October 2002, Ediger filed the lawsuit under seal and was not even allowed to talk to his wife or children about the litigation. Such whistle-blower lawsuits are filed in secrecy to give the government a chance to investigate the allegations.

Two years later, Ediger and the federal government prevailed by winning the largest single settlement recovered on behalf of the United States in the Western District of Oklahoma, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Gold Banc may still face some legal problems. The bank has 37 locations in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Florida and ``is the largest Farm Service Agency guaranteed lender in the state of Oklahoma,'' according to its Web site.

Two class-action lawsuits have been filed in federal court in Oklahoma City by farmers claiming to have been charged the excessive fees.