Articles Posted in SEC Whistleblower Program & CFTC Whistleblower Program

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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When Pharma manufacturers are targeted by the Department of Justice, qui tam whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act are often the reason.

Now, whistleblowers may also receive rewards for reporting violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), thanks to the new whistleblower provisions of the Wall Street financial reform law. Announcements like Merck’s recent SEC filing that it is now the subject an FCPA investigation involving other Pharma companies should become common, as corruption will now be increasingly exposed in a new wave of SEC Whistleblower cases.

The recent 10-Q filing of Merck & Co., Inc. stated in part:

The Company has received letters from the DOJ and the SEC that seek information about activities in a number of countries and reference the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Company is cooperating with the agencies in their requests and believes that this inquiry is part of a broader review of pharmaceutical industry practices in foreign countries.

As we have followed through its development, the Dodd-Frank financial reform law created the new SEC Whistleblower and CFTC Whistleblower programs, which will include FCPA cases.

The FCPA, as we have discussed previously, prohibits bribery of foreign government officials in international business transactions, and false entries in books and records of those companies within the statute. Whistleblowers who assist the SEC recover monetary sanctions in FCPA cases now have an enforceable right to a monetary award of 10-30%.

Pharma’s exposure for any bribes and kickbacks abroad are a ripe subject for FCPA enforcement.
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Only days after the new financial reform law created the first potentially meaningful awards for whistleblowers reporting securities and commodities violations and abuses, the SEC may have signaled a new attitude toward encouraging whistleblowers.

The SEC recently announced its first million dollar award for a whistleblower’s report of information about insider trading involving hedge fund adviser Pequot Capital Management, Inc., its chief executive, Arthur J. Samberg, and David E. Zilkha, a Microsoft employee.

Although $1 million may not sound like much when compared to the losses caused by the Madoffs of the world, it is a dramatic improvement over what the SEC had done before.

In following the development of the new SEC Whistleblower Program, we previously discussed the Inspector General’s summary of how, over the past eleven years, the SEC had paid a total of less than $160,000 to reward whistleblowers under the “old” SEC bounty program for whistleblowers. The IG reported:

The SEC bounty program has made very few payments to whistleblowers since its inception and received a relatively small number of bounty applications. As a result, the program’s success has been minimal and its existence is practically unknown.
Since the inception of the SEC bounty program in 1989, the SEC has paid a total of $159,537 to five claimants as detailed in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Bounty Payments to Whistleblowers Bounty Claimant Year Bounty Amount 1) Claimant 1 1989 $3,500 2) Claimant 2 2001 $18,152 3) Claimant 3 2002 $29,079 4) Claimant 4 2005 $17,500 4) Claimant 4 2006 $29,920 4) Claimant 4 2009 $55,220 5) Claimant 5 2007 $6,166
Total $159,537
Source: OIG Generated

Just as another Inspector General’s report in 2006 set the stage for the successful new IRS Whistleblower Program that is attracting many reports of even billions in tax liability, let’s hope this Inspector General’s report has motivated the SEC to make full use of the opportunity to build a meaningful whistleblower program. We are already getting calls from potential Wall Street whistleblowers wishing to take advantage of it, and it could be a rewarding process–depending on how well the SEC seizes the opportunity.

The SEC’s recent announcement of the $1 million reward is reprinted below:
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When the President signed the new financial reform bill into law today, new whistleblower provisions quietly took effect to battle corruption, bribery, and corporate fraud to obtain foreign government contracts.

This new law creates the new SEC whistleblower program that we have followed since its gestation after the Madoff scandal broke. The SEC and the U.S. Department of Justice share jurisdiction over a growing and increasingly important area of enforcement, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Bribery of foreign government officials in international business transactions, and false entries in books and records of those companies within the statute, are the targets of the FCPA. Whistleblowers whose information helps the SEC recover monetary sanctions from those corrupt entities in FCPA cases now have an enforceable right to a monetary award of 10-30%.

Based on the increasing number and size of these FCPA cases, the rewards to whistleblowers can be meaningful–as they must be to cause whistleblowers to come forward. Over the past decade, the government has pursued more and more FCPA cases, and some recover hundreds of millions of dollars.

Recall that, in late 2008, Siemens agreed to pay more than $1.6 billion to the United States and Germany, after allegedly paying “$1.4 billion in bribes to government officials in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas.” Announcing the guilty plea and settlement, the government described “a corporate culture in which bribery was tolerated and even rewarded at the highest levels of the company.”

The SEC obtained $350 million in disgorgement from that settlement, which was the largest FCPA settlement to date.

In announcing that 2008 recovery, the government explained that “there is no question that the Department has in recent years significantly increased its FCPA enforcement. From 2001 to 2004, the Department resolved or charged 17 FCPA cases. For the period of 2005 to 2008, that number is 42 resolutions, representing an increase of more than 200 percent within these four years as compared to the prior four-year period.”

With money scarce both at home and abroad, it is even more urgent to recoup funds lost to fraud. The new SEC whistleblower awards and Commodity Futures Trading Commission rewards should prompt more efficient law enforcement efforts to stop this fraud, just as the False Claims Act and the new IRS Whistleblower Program have shown is possible.

This corruption harms legitimate businesses, who cannot compete when corruption prevents a level playing field. This crime also causes damage to others, as the government explained in announcing the Siemens settlement. That transcript is reprinted below, and in part states:

For let there be no doubt that corruption is not a victimless offense. Corruption is not a gentlemen’s agreement where no one gets hurt. People do get hurt. And the people who are hurt the worst are often residents of the poorest countries on the face of the earth, especially where it occurs in the context of government infrastructure projects, contracts in which crucial development decisions are made, in which a country will live by those decisions for good or for bad for years down the road, and where those decisions are made using precious and scarce national resources.

To illustrate the types of corruption this new whistleblower law should bring to light more often, the government’s announcement of the 2008 Siemens settlement is reprinted below:
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The new financial reform bill that awaits the President’s signature this week has something important for potential whistleblowers with knowledge of fraud in options, futures, derivatives and other financial products within the jurisdiction of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The bill will modify the Commodity Exchange Act to provide whistleblower rewards and protections.

Similar to the new SEC whistleblower awards for persons who reports securities fraud, the rewards to whistleblowers will be available if the CFTC recovers monetary sanctions of more than $1 million because of the whistleblower’s information.

Like SEC whistleblowers, CFTC whistleblowers will have an enforceable right to 10-30% of what the CFTC recovers in substantial cases when the whistleblower has “voluntarily provided original information to the Commission that led to the successful enforcement of the covered judicial or administrative action, or related action.” (Section 748 of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, reprinted below).

Crucial to the success of these new whistleblower programs, whistleblowers will know that they will receive at least 10% of the recovery in significant cases when the whistleblower meets the law’s criteria.

The history of the nation’s major whistleblower statute, the False Claims Act, shows that guarantees of meaningful rewards are the critical element in causing whistleblowers to report substantial fraud. Fraud recoveries increased dramatically once Congress amended the False Claims Act in 1986 to provide meaningful whistleblower rewards of 15-25% in cases in which the government intervenes.

The new IRS Whistleblower Program is proving the same point, as quality submissions have poured in now that a right to a meaningful whistleblower award exists.

Congress has set forth general criteria for the CFTC to determine the amount of the award within the 10-30% range. Factors that the CFTC will consider include:

“(I) the significance of the information provided by the whistleblower to the success of the covered judicial or administrative action;

”(II) the degree of assistance provided by the whistleblower and any legal representative of the whistleblower in a covered judicial or administrative action;

”(III) the programmatic interest of the Commission in deterring violations of the Act (including regulations under the Act) by making awards to whistleblowers who provide information that leads to the successful enforcement of such laws; and
”(IV) such additional relevant factors as the Commission may establish by rule or regulation”
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Since the SEC refused for years to heed Madoff whistleblower Harry Markopolis’ warnings that Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme, we have followed with great interest the efforts of those who sought to create the first meaningful SEC whistleblower program.

The Senate this week took an important step by authorizing a new SEC whistleblower program–one more potent than the SEC apparently wanted–as part of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

When the Madoff fiasco surfaced, Congress asked why the law failed to encourage SEC whistleblowers to come forward, in the same way the qui tam whistleblower provisions of the False Claims Act have been so successful in rewarding whistleblowers for helping stop fraud against the government. Those same principles in the new IRS Whistleblower program have caused an explosion of valuable information presented by whistleblowers in exposing tax liability of many billions of dollars.

SEC leadership helped shape the tepid House version, which would have made rewards to whistleblowers wholly discretionary.

When we criticized the House version of the proposed SEC whistleblower rewards for that reason, staffers of the Senate Banking Committee contacted us to discuss what a meaningful whistleblower program should include, based on our experience with whistleblowers under the False Claims Act and IRS Whistleblower program. Our response was that, at minimum, a whistleblower with information about significant fraud must have a legally enforceable right to a meaningful reward.

Fortunately, the Senate version included such a right to an award of 10-30% in substantial cases, and the Senate view ultimately prevailed (see below text of whistleblower provisions in Section 922).

It remains to be seen how SEC leadership will respond. At this spring’s Offshore Alert Conference in Miami, an SEC official listened to his panelists describe how successful mandatory rewards have been in causing whistleblowers to come forward in False Claims Act cases and IRS Whistleblower claims, yet apparently failed to “get” that SEC whistleblowers need a similar incentive to come forward in the best cases.

In our experience in representing whistleblowers, persons with the most significant information will rarely come forward without an enforceable right to a meaningful reward. The SEC has not exactly fostered public confidence in its judgment in recent years. If it embraces whistleblowers as Congress has directed, the SEC will find that–like the IRS Whistleblower Office–it will receive better, and dramatically more, information about fraud within its jurisdiction.

The full text of section 922 regarding SEC whistleblowers is reprinted below:
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