Articles Posted in Financial Fraud

The SEC announced today its first SEC Whistleblower award to a former company officer. The award of a half-million dollars was for “original, high-quality information about a securities fraud,” which resulted in an SEC enforcement action with sanctions of more than $1 million.

Typically, corporate officers, directors and other corporate fiduciaries are not eligible for SEC Whistleblower awards when they learn of fraud through employee reports. The SEC built in flexibility in its rules, however, when the officer waits “more than 120 days after other responsible compliance personnel possessed the information and failed to adequately address the issue.” Otherwise, frauds that a dishonest company refuses to address might otherwise go unreported.

We have followed the new SEC Whistleblower Program since the Senate staff consulted us in its drafting of the SEC whistleblower provisions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law. We represent SEC and CFTC whistleblowers in claims that concern frauds sometimes as large as $1 billion.

Yesterday’s record award to an SEC whistleblower has far-reaching consequences because the SEC made clear it will reward foreign citizens living abroad who meet its criteria for a whistleblower award.

This decision rejects any suggestion that the SEC Whistleblower Program’s reach ends at the nation’s borders. The SEC recognized that a leading federal appeals court imposed such a limitation on the anti-retaliation provisions of the Dodd-Frank law, which authorized the SEC Whistleblower Program, but announced it is taking a different approach to whistleblower awards:

“[A]lthough we recognize that the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently held that there was an insufficient territorial nexus for the anti-retaliation protections of Section 21F(h) to apply to a foreign whistleblower who experienced employment retaliation overseas after making certain reports about his foreign employer, Liu v. Siemens, __ F.3d __, 2014 WL 3953672 (2d Cir. Aug. 14, 2014), we do not find that decision controlling here; the whistleblower award provisions have a different Congressional focus than the anti-retaliation provisions, which are generally focused on preventing retaliatory employment actions and protecting the employment relationship.”

Today the SEC Office of the Whistleblower announced the largest-ever award to an SEC whistleblower: $30 million to a whistleblower living abroad.

The size of the award reflects the SEC’s seriousness about utilizing whistleblowers’ information to expose major securities violations. The SEC described this as “ongoing fraud that would have been very difficult to detect” without the whistleblower, according to the Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, Andrew Ceresney.

Sean McKessy, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, added that this award demonstrates the “international breadth” of the SEC whistleblower program.

Each Fall, the Justice Department tallies its recoveries of taxpayer dollars that have been pilfered through fraud directed at federal programs. A year ago, DOJ proudly announced $3 billion in recoveries in False Claims Act cases, and a record $8.7 billion recovered in the three years starting in 2009.

Late this year, DOJ will announce that its fraud recoveries tripled from $3 million in FY 2011 to more than $9 million in FY 2012. This trend of increasingly large recoveries of stolen taxpayer funds proves once again the effectiveness of laws like the False Claims Act, which incentivize whistleblowers to expose fraud through its qui tam provisions.

Although health care cases account for the vast majority of FCA recoveries, growing areas include banking, mortgage, and pension fraud cases involving fraudulently obtained taxpayer dollars, as my colleagues at Taxpayers Against Fraud point out. States are also using their own false claims laws to recover stolen taxpayer funds.

In qui tam cases, private citizen whistleblowers (known as “relators”) file suit on the government’s behalf to expose fraud against taxpayer funds. The whistleblowers can receive 15-25% of the government’s recovery of stolen funds if the government prosecutes the case, and 25-30% if the government leaves it to the whistleblower to pursue the recovery.

Consider the history of False Claims Act recoveries that have totalled more than $39 billion since 1986, when Congress authorized meaningful rewards to whistleblowers:
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Financial fraud cases under the False Claims Act continue. A Pennsylvania lender has agreed to pay $3.9 million in a False Claims Act case over alleged false statements in mortgage loan applications for loans insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The loans were made to two nursing homes.

The government contended that Capmark Finance LLC misrepresented the borrowers’ creditworthiness in these two applications for mortgage loans. When the loans defaulted, the FHA sustained losses.

The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force takes credit for this recovery. It was created to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.

Since the 2008 financial collapse, many have called for imposing liability on those whose fraud fueled the crisis.

In this early phase of what we predict will be a wave of financial fraud cases, the Justice Department announced today the largest False Claims Act settlement to date over mortgage fraud. Bank of America has agreed to pay $1 billion to resolve allegations that the Bank, through Countrywide Financial Corporation and some of its subsidiaries and affiliates, engaged in underwriting and origination mortgage fraud.

DOJ alleged that Countrywide knowingly made loans to unqualified home buyers and used inflated appraisals, thus causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to the Federal Housing Administration. The FHA insured the loans in question.

The promising new IRS Whistleblower Program that Congress authorized in December 2006 is the subject of a long-anticipated GAO Report released this morning.

Disappointingly, the report raised, but did not attempt to answer, fundamental questions that will determine whether the IRS realizes the full potential of the new program in helping close the “tax gap”–or settles for a fraction of what it can accomplish.

Inspired by the dramatic successes of the False Claims Act in combating fraud against the government through rewarding whistleblowers, Sen. Charles Grassley spearheaded the effort to create the first meaningful IRS Whistleblower Program in 2006.

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 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.

The 2008 financial sector collapse has led to another False Claims Act case against financial institutions. Today, Deutsche Bank and MortgageIT were named in a mortgage fraud case under the False Claims Act, filed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York.

The government’s Complaint alleges that Deutsche Bank and MortgageIT “repeatedly lied to be included in a Government program to select mortgages for insurance by the Government. Once in that program, they recklessly selected mortgages that violated program rules in blatant disregard of whether borrowers could make mortgage payments. While Deutsche Bank and MortgageIT profited from the resale of these Government-insured mortgages, thousands of American homeowners have faced default and eviction, and the Government has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance claims, with hundreds of millions of dollars more expected to be paid in the future.”

While health care fraud has been the subject of most qui tam cases under the False Claims Act in recent years, bank fraud, mortgage fraud, and other financial fraud and abuse promise to be growing areas of enforcement in False Claims Act cases.