Articles Posted in SEC Whistleblower Program & CFTC Whistleblower Program

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.

The SEC has just announced that current senior advisor to SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro, Stephen L. Cohen, has been named an Associate Director of the Division of Enforcement.

We hope this is good news for the nascent SEC Whistleblower Program. The SEC recently announced that its delaying creation of an SEC Whistleblower Office for budget reasons.

Steve Cohen has advised Chairman Schapiro on a number of issues including the SEC Whistleblower program, which I have discussed with him briefly earlier this year.

Coincidentally, the announcement came on yesterday’s deadline for comments on the SEC’s proposed rules for SEC whistleblowers, which must be substantially revamped so as not to defeat Congress’ purpose by discouraging meaningful whistleblowers from coming forward. We have submitted our own comments to the SEC on its proposed whistleblower rules, and will discuss later others’ comments here. See our comments

The SEC’s press release is reprinted below:
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Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reports a “sweeping” insider trading investigation, with civil and criminal charges soon to follow, involving “consultants, investment bankers, hedge-fund and mutual-fund traders, and analysts across the nation.”

While the details remain to be seen, the unending series of fraud cases that continue–despite Sarbanes-Oxley–proves why Wall Street must not be allowed to neuter the first potentially meaningful SEC whistleblower program, mandated by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

How is it that the hallowed “compliance programs” born from Sarbanes-Oxley have utterly failed to stop the breathtaking frauds of Madoff, Stanford, and other recent post-SOX scandals?

As many honest employees encountering fraud discover, too often “compliance programs” mask efforts to identify employees who object to wrongdoing, so the wrongdoers can then gut their careers.

How well did compliance programs work at the many Madoff-abetting feeder funds that made scores of millions, as Madoff’s scheme spread to snare more victims? Read Harry Markopolis’ book to see how many of those firms’ “compliance” efforts worked, as Madoff’s enablers ignored glaring warning signs that multiplied over the life of the scheme.

SEC Chair Mary Schapiro and Director of Enforcement Robert Khuzami seem dedicated to invigorating the SEC’s enforcement efforts. While the new proposed SEC whistleblower rules show considerable thought, they threaten the program’s effectiveness by bowing too far to industry concerns, and excluding many potential whistleblowers such as accountants, who may be the best position to stop the next Madoff.

Wall Street would have the SEC create a labyrinth of further exceptions to who can participate in the new SEC Whistleblower program. One lethal industry proposal is to require potential whistleblowers first to run the gauntlet of firms’ “compliance” programs–a concept wholly inconsistent with Congress’ intent that whistleblowers must be allowed to report violations anonymously.

The initial screening of SEC whistleblower claims should not be outsourced to the very firms alleged to have violated the law, which is what mandatory internal reporting effectively would do. The SEC–like the Department of Justice and IRS–should be the first to screen SEC whistleblower claims. With any SEC whistleblower claim large enough to pursue, by definition the culpable firm has typically approved the violation, or at least looked the other way.

Otherwise, who in a position to expose significant fraud would come forward, if required first to reveal their objections to the fraud to those who may have approved it? And if the fraud stays concealed–as it too often has despite “compliance” programs–the public loses.

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We have been awaiting the SEC’s proposed rules for its new SEC Whistleblower Program, released yesterday. Even before the announcement, however, those who oppose this first potentially meaningful SEC Whistleblower Program have begun efforts to undermine it.

The SEC’s website already includes some firms’ suggestions to impose extreme restrictions on SEC whistleblowers–contrary to how other successful whistleblower programs operate.

Designing any new whistleblower program should begin with studying more than two decades of successes of the nation’s major whistleblower law, the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act has been so effective in uncovering and penalizing fraud against the government since 1986 that it has inspired Congress and the states to enact a wave of new whistleblower statutes–including the Dodd-Frank whistleblower mandate in section 922.

Unless the SEC seeks to create an ineffective program, it makes no sense to impose restrictions on whistleblowers that do not exist in False Claims Act cases.

One such damaging restriction would be requiring whistleblowers first to report within the company violations of the law, before going to the SEC. Past experience with the False Claims Act shows that warning violators of the law (who know their own violations) invites destruction of evidence by those who engineered the lawbreaking, and destroys the whistleblower’s career.

Other deceptive suggestions are that the SEC follow the “approach” of the promising new IRS Whistleblower Program–but with far greater restrictions on whistleblowing.

For example, one representative of future defendants urges what are actually variations on the “one-bite” and “no-bite” rules of the IRS, which historically have restricted the IRS’s receipt of certain information, or information from certain whistleblowers.

In fact, the IRS trend appears to be the opposite. In a March 2010 IRS Notice and in June 2010 changes to the Internal Revenue Manual, the “one-bite” rule appears to be giving way to the more sensible approach of allowing whistleblowers more than “one bite” at submitting information that may be useful to the IRS.

Likewise, a suggestion that the SEC adopt a variation the “no-bite” rule would expand it far beyond the IRS concept of not accepting information from the “taxpayer’s representative” before the IRS. This suggestion would go much further and prohibit submissions to the SEC by anyone who has a “fiduciary” duty to a public company–which arguably could be most or all employees.

We will comment further on the specifics of yesterday’s proposed rules, but the basic principles above should guide the SEC in what it finally decides.

The SEC’s announcement yesterday is reprinted below:
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Our whistleblower lawyer blog has followed closely the development of the first potentially meaningful SEC Whistleblower and Commodities Whistleblower Programs. That link provides regular updates.

Based on our firm’s long experience in representing whistleblowers, we were asked by the Senate Banking Committee staff for input in how the new SEC and CFTC whistleblower provisions of the July 2010 Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act should work. We urged that the Senate change the tepid House version, which provided no meaningful rewards to whistleblowers, in favor of an enforceable right for SEC and CFTC whistleblowers to a significant reward.

Fortunately, that approach is now the law. We are currently working on select Dodd-Frank whistleblower matters involving SEC whistleblowers and Commodities whistleblowers, as well as our False Claims Act and IRS Whistleblower cases. Those cases include a growing area of enforcement, bribery of foreign government officials and other violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

One of the most interesting twists to the new SEC Whistleblower Program will be how many commercial bribes and kickbacks paid to foreign government officials will now come to light. As we have written about previously, the SEC shares jurisdiction with the Justice Department over such cases that violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

An example of why whistleblowers will come forward is this afternoon’s announcement of the SEC’s $39 million settlement with ABB Ltd (“ABB”), a Swiss company that provides power and automation products and services.

The SEC alleged that ABB made more than $2.7 million in bribes and kickbacks to obtain more than $100 million in contracts. The payments allegedly were made to “government officials in Mexico to obtain business with government owned power companies,” and to the “former regime in Iraq to obtain contracts under the United Nations Oil for Food Program.”

According to the SEC, some of the kickbacks were made through bank guarantees and cash payments. As is common in disguising unlawful payments, the kickbacks were recorded on the company’s books as legitimate payments–here, for “after sales services,” “consultation costs,” and “commissions.”

ABB, without admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint, agreed not only to pay disgorgement and penalties totalling more than $39 million, but also agreed to pay a criminal fine of $30,420,000, according to the SEC. The company also agreed to be bound by certain “undertakings” concerning its FCPA compliance program.

As to how an FCPA whistleblower might fare who reports similar FCPA violations of bribery of foreign government officials, the new SEC Whistleblower Program pays 10% to 30% of monetary sanctions collected–approximately $4 million to $12 million under similar facts.

The SEC’s announcement is reprinted in full below, and the SEC’s Complaint is linked here:
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