Articles Posted in SEC Whistleblower Program & CFTC Whistleblower Program

At the Healthcare Fraud Institute this past week, I was asked to address what steps whistleblowers should take to ensure confidentiality of emails with their lawyers. Although qui tam cases under the False Claims Act were the focus of our discussion, the same principles apply to tax whistleblowers and SEC whistleblowers.

Potential whistleblowers should never use their company’s email system, or any email account shared with or accessible to another person, for communicating with their attorney or for gathering information or evidence to report to the government.

Although the law encourages whistleblowers to report fraud, whistleblowers can create unnecessary problems for themselves by not following this rule.

First, emails between whistleblowers and their attorneys are privileged and confidential, but the privilege can disappear and be waived if the communication is disclosed to others.

Second, qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act are filed with a court order “sealing” the case from public view, while the government investigates. If an email accidentally exposes the case, the whistleblower may have violated the court’s “seal” order.

Third, alerting a defendant company that the whistleblower has reported the company’s fraud to the government is almost certain to provoke retaliation against an employee who is a whistleblower. Immediate suspension or firing often follows. Although the False Claims Act and the SEC and CFTC whistleblower laws create remedies for retaliation, those remedies take time to achieve. They will not pay the whistleblower’s mortgage next month–or this year.

We advise all of our clients that they must protect the confidentiality of their emails. Many people do not realize that emails sent from a company’s computer system usually leave some record, even if the employee is accessing a personal Gmail account.
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Every two years, attorneys prosecuting or defending qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act and other whistleblower laws gather for the Whistleblower Law Symposium.

We have written much about “qui tam” whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act. Since last year’s passage of the Dodd-Frank law, whistleblowers who help expose (1) violations of the securities laws or (2) commercial bribery of foreign government officials, now can receive rewards of 10-30% of money sanctions imposed under the new SEC Whistleblower Program. The new IRS Whistleblower program pays whistleblowers 15-30% of amounts recovered. These cases also help stop fraud against taxpayers and investors.

On October 21, an unusual group of national experts on these claims will gather for the Whistleblower Law Symposium, which our firm organizes every two years. Not only do we have senior attorneys from the Department of Justice and experienced whistleblower lawyers discussing qui tam cases, but the Director of the IRS Whistleblower Office Steve Whitlock will participate and explain the tax whistleblower program. Senior SEC attorneys also have stated that they wish to be part of our seminar to discuss the new SEC Whistleblower Program, and are seeking approval to participate.

This conference is broader in scope than any whistleblower law conference in the country of which I am aware, as we have a national faculty of lawyers on both sides of these cases, as well as some of the top government officials involved.

Registration is still open for those who want to register online here:

Please feel free to call or email me with any questions. The Agenda is below.
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When the CFTC announced its final whistleblower rules yesterday, it answered many questions about how the new CFTC whistleblower program will work.

David Meister, the CFTC’s Director of the Division of Enforcement, provided this summary according to the unofficial transcript our firm prepared of yesterday’s CFTC public meeting:

The Commission will pay awards to eligible whistleblowers who provide original information to the Commission leading to a successful Commission enforcement action and the imposition of monetary sanctions in excess of $1 million.

Congress provided that the amount of the whistleblower award must be between 10% and 30% of sanctions collected in either the Commission action or related action as defined in the rules. The Commission has discretion in determining the amount of the award within that 10 – 30 percent range.

The rules set forth a number of factors that the Commission will consider in determining the amount of the award. These factors include the significance of the information; the degree of the whistleblower’s assistance; the Commission’s programmatic interest; whether the award enhances the Commission’s ability to enforce the Commodity Exchange Act, protect customers and encourage people to come forward with high quality information; and potential adverse incentives from oversized awards.

To be award eligible, a whistleblower is not required, under our recommendation– a whistleblower is not required to report his information internally to his employer. Staff believes that such a requirement would deter some whistleblowers from coming forward, which would undermine congressional intent.
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The final whistleblower rules of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) are being announced now at a CFTC open meeting. Like the SEC, the CFTC has rejected any provision that whistleblowers be required first to report internally the violations in question, but will treat internal reporting as a “positive” consideration in its awards.

The alternative pushed by business would have required all CFTC whistleblowers first to risk career suicide by reporting the boss’s wrongdoing to the boss himself.

Industry’s approach would have made the Commission the laughing stock of law enforcement, since no rational person with a career and a mortgage would risk reporting even major fraud with that requirement.

Fortunately, the CFTC put first its responsibility to protect the public, and is taking seriously its law enforcement duties by seeking to root out major frauds.

Madoff, Stanford, and the other major frauds of the past decade prove that internal compliance programs cannot protect the public. That is why Congress in Dodd-Frank demanded the first meaningful SEC and CFTC whistleblower programs.

We applaud the CFTC on this important stand, and look forward to reviewing the text of the final rules when made available.
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Too often missing in today’s discussions of Dodd-Frank’s one-year anniversary is appreciation of efforts by CFTC and SEC leadership to build from scratch the effective new whistleblower programs mandated by Dodd-Frank.

With scant resources, each agency is creating an essential mechanism to protect today’s investors from the next fraudulent scheme.

Let’s start with the CFTC. When I met with Chairman Gary Gensler and his CFTC staff in March to discuss the CFTC’s proposed whistleblower rules, I was struck by Chairman Gensler’s focus on what improvements could be made to its “draft” commodities whistleblower rules.

The only non-lawyer in the room, Gensler seemed to grasp more quickly than anyone potential abuses that its draft rules would not correct.

CFTC Commissioner Bart Chilton has also recognized how essential an effective whistleblower program is to protect investors.

More importantly, even the CFTC’s initial cut at its rules showed that it would not simply copy the SEC whistleblower rules’ approach, but would independently design a meaningful program to protect the public by attracting significant whistleblower information to ferret out frauds.

Likewise, the SEC–whose whistleblower rules have been finalized–has shown a welcome commitment to making SEC whistleblowers welcome. Chair Mary Schapiro, Director of Enforcement Robert Khuzami, and other staff such as Steve Cohen, Jordan Thomas, and Sarit Klein put more than considerable thought and effort in refining the SEC whistleblower rules announced in May 2011.

Some in Congress seek to keep the SEC and CFTC so underfunded that they cannot protect the public effectively. As former SEC counsel Professor Don Langevoort observed, “Congress maintains increasingly tight control over SEC policy largely through the budgetary process, and having the Commission be habitually needy and under-resourced fits well within this strategy. The campaign contributions from various sources with an interest in securities regulation are large, and influential members of Congress hardly maximize their own political advantage by stepping aside and leaving the SEC free to do its work as it sees fit.”
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The SEC Whistleblower Program encompasses not only classic securities violations, but also violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”), a topic we have followed closely.

This past week, the SEC filed and settled an FCPA case against Armor Holdings, Inc., and collected more than $5.6 million, while the Department of Justice added almost $10.3 million in criminal fines.

The SEC charged that Armor Holdings, Inc. engaged in a bribery scheme to sell body armor to U.N. peacekeeping missions. The Commission also alleged that Armor Holdings violated the federal securities laws’ books and records and internal controls provisions by failing to account properly for commissions in 2001-2007.

Demonstrating the SEC’s increased emphasis on FCPA enforcement, this case is one of 32 FCPA cases the Commission has filed since 2010. Bribery of foreign government officials for business is having increased repercussions.

According to the SEC’s Complaint, through a U.K. subsidiary Armor Holdings paid more than $200,000 through an intermediary to a United Nations official who could send it business, and used a sham consulting agreement to disguise its actions. The result was more than $7 million in additional revenues, and more than $1.5 million in additional profits, according to the SEC.
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The suspense over the final SEC whistleblower rules ended with the SEC’s release of its final whistleblower rules last week. The CFTC is to follow suit soon in announcing its own commodities whistleblower rules.

We have followed the SEC rules’ development, after being part of the small group of pro-whistleblower attorneys who met with the Commissioners and staff and urged changes to the draft rules to make them effective.

In January, I had the opportunity to visit with SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro, Director Khuzami, and SEC staff, and then separately with Commissioners Luis A. Aguilar, Kathleen L. Casey, Troy A. Paredes, and Elisse B. Walter, to discuss changes to the proposed rules for the new SEC Whistleblower program.

Of interest to whistleblowers reporting fraud under the False Claims Act, the IRS Whistleblower Program, or the brand new SEC Whistleblower and CFTC Whistleblower Programs is an upcoming presentation, “Avoiding the Mistakes of the UBS/Birkenfeld Case: Protecting Whistleblowers from Criminal and Civil Liability.”

This discussion is part of a fascinating gathering this April in South Beach–the OffshoreAlert Conference. As the brochure promises:

Where else could tax collectors mingle with tax minimizers, asset tracers with asset protectors, regulators with the regulated, whistleblowers with their former employers and crooks with prosecutors?

How to protect whistleblowers from criminal and civil liability was a topic my panel discussed at the 2010 IRS Whistleblower Boot Camp in Washington. Because we had the IRS Chief Counsel’s Office participating in that discussion, we were unable to discuss directly what went wrong for Birkenfeld as he brought important information about tax evasion to the attention of the IRS, but ended up serving a prison sentence of 40 months. (We have written previously about Birkenfeld’s errors revealed in the court record.)

At the OffshoreAlert Conference discussion this year, I will moderate the panel discussion about what can be done to protect whistleblowers from criminal and civil exposure. Joining me are former Justice Department official and former General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Joe D. Whitley; former prosecutor and now whistleblower attorney Marc Raspanti; and federal and international tax attorney Richard Rubin.

The program description is reprinted below:
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Just as we have followed closely the development of the IRS Whistleblower program since Congress authorized it in December 2006, we are watching the birth of the new SEC Whistleblower program. In 2010’s Dodd-Frank Financial Reform law, Congress mandated the creation of what could be the first meaningful SEC and CFTC Whistleblower programs.

Today, the SEC took a major step in announcing the first head of the nascent SEC Whistleblower Office: Sean McKessy, a former Senior Counsel in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement from 1997 to 2000.

According to the SEC’s announcement, “Mr. McKessy served as corporate secretary for both Altria Group, Inc. and AOL Inc., and as securities counsel for Caterpillar, Inc. In these roles, Mr. McKessy developed and supervised internal compliance and reporting programs related to the federal securities laws, served as corporate compliance officer, and coordinated the reporting of potential violations to boards of directors.”

As we have discussed previously, bribery of foreign government officials is the subject of many cases filed by the SEC under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Those cases, which often bring significant recoveries, will increase in number as a result of rewards to whistleblowers under the new SEC Whistleblower program that we have followed.

The SEC today announced the successful conclusion of an FCPA investigation of Maxwell Technologies, Inc. The SEC announced it had filed a “settled” case through which Maxwell agreed to pay $6.3 million in disgorgement and interest, based on allegations that a Maxwell subsidiary “repeatedly” paid bribes to Chinese government officials. The object was to obtain business from Chinese entities owned by the state.

In a related criminal case, Maxwell reportedly agreed to pay an $8 million criminal penalty in installments.

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