Updated 7:08 p.m.
On Oct. 15, 2008, the Smithsonian Institution wired $300,000 to a company for the licensing and exhibition of the film, "Dinosaurs: Giants of Patagonia."
The very next day, the company received a $300,000 check from the Smithsonian for the same invoice. Mistake? That's what the government maintains.
The Justice Department wants the extra money returned. Alleging unjust enrichment, prosecutors this week sued Fort Lauderdale-based Comet Distribution Ltd. in Washington federal district court to force the return of the overpayment.
DOJ lawyers said the Comet president promised to refund the government its extra money but has failed to do so. The suit (PDF) said Comet has returned $75,000 of the extra $300,000, leaving a $225,000 debt to the government.
Justice Department lawyers said in the suit that the government is seeking “a debt owed to the United States for an overpayment mistakenly paid” to Comet. The suit does not explain how the Smithsonian paid twice on the same invoice.
Comet and the Smithsonian entered into a 50-year contract (PDF) that included a $600,000 licensing fee, to be paid in two installments—one by March 2008 and the other by October 2008. The suit indicates the Smithsonian made a double-payment in October 2008.
A Comet official was not immediately reached for comment this afternoon. Court records do not show that Comet has retained counsel.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Judith Kidwell, who filed the suit on behalf of the United States, declined to comment. A Smithsonian spokesperson was not immediately reached for comment this afternoon.