* Agrees to pay $18.7 million criminal penalty
* U.S.: Louis Berger billings based on fraudulent rates
* Louis Berger not immediately available for comment
NEW YORK, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Louis Berger Group Inc, a New Jersey-based engineering consultant with contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq, agreed to pay an $18.7 million criminal penalty to settle charges that it overbilled the U.S. government, court papers show.
The payment is part of a deferred prosecution agreement in which Louis Berger admitted charging inflated rates from 1999 through August 2007, according to documents filed Friday in the U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey.
The company agreed to make full restitution and retain an outside monitor as the closely-held company works to reform its practices. The agreement requires court approval.
Holly Fisher, a spokeswoman for the company, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
According to the deferred prosecution agreement, former Louis Berger executives improperly “targeted” an inflated rate at which the company would seek reimbursement from the government for indirect costs.
Louis Berger then intentionally sought reimbursement based on “false, fictitious and fraudulent” rates, resulting in overbilling, the agreement shows.
According to its website, the Morristown, New Jersey, company had $694 million of revenue last year and employs nearly 3,000 people in 35 countries. It said it does business in 80 countries worldwide.
Under the deferred prosecution agreement, Louis Berger would pay $5.8 million of the penalty within 30 days, and the remaining $12.9 million within two years.
A deferred prosecution agreement allows for the dismissal of charges if the defendant complies with the agreement’s terms.
The case is U.S. v. Louis Berger Group Inc, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey, No. 10-mag-03198. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by John Wallace)