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.

This is the fifteenth whistleblower compensated by the SEC, with awards now approaching $50 million.

Congratulations to the SEC’s Sean McKessy for continuing to develop this important SEC Whistleblower Program.

The SEC’s press prelease can be found here.

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.”

The SEC’s forward-thinking approach is exactly what a successful whistleblower program needs. U.S. investors receive the greatest protection when fraud is reported by anyone, regardless of their location or citizenship.

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.

We have followed the SEC Whistleblower Program from its birth in the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation, when we were consulted by Senate staff on what would make it successful. When we met with each SEC Commissioner in 2011 to provide input on the Rules for the new whistleblower program, we were encouraged that the SEC would make effective use of this important new tool for protecting investors.

Since 2010, the SEC has added to its ranks industry specialists with backgrounds that better enable the SEC to work cases brought by whistleblowers with “inside” knowledge of the financial industry.

The $30 million award should only attract more persons with knowledge of significant securities fraud and other violations. We applaud Sean McKessy and his staff for this groundbreaking award.

The SEC’s decision may be found here.

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.

It is fitting that false statements to obtain federally insured mortgage loans which result in losses to taxpayers are receiving scrutiny under the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act is the nation’s major whistleblower law. Private citizen whistleblowers (known as “relators”) who report fraud can share 15-25% of the government’s recovery of damages.

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 U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York handled the case, as part of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The DOJ announcement is linked here.

We congratulate those who brought about this recovery of taxpayer funds.

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.

Relying on data showing that whistleblower information had already proved extremely effective for the IRS (four cents invested produced one dollar in recoveries), Congress doubled reward percentages and made awards mandatory for whistleblowers. A small but impressive staff came together to run the program through the first IRS Whistleblower Office, led by Director Steve Whitlock.

Unfortunately, some in the IRS resisted implementing Congress’ direction that the IRS expand the number and types of whistleblower claims that the IRS pursues, and are instead creating obstacles and delays that never existed before. Thus, Congress prompted GAO to inquire.

I was one of several attorneys whom GAO contacted, at the IRS Whistleblower Office’s suggestion, to discuss these issues. I spent considerable time in more than one interview discussing what has made the False Claims Act so successful, and how the IRS can achieve similar success. We shared our written comments to the IRS at its recent hearing on the IRS Whistleblower rules.

The essential elements of any successful whistleblower program start with predictable and meaningful rewards to whistleblowers that are not left to the government’s discretion. In addition, the success of the False Claims Act is in its “public-private partnership” model, which allows the government to leverage its scarce resources by working hand-in-hand with whistleblowers and their attorneys to address fraud. These principles translate to the IRS whistleblower claims process under existing law, and if needed Congress can tweak the privacy statute (26 U.S.C. section 6103) and still preserve appropriate taxpayer privacy.

GAO’s report touches on these fundamental questions, but leaves them unanswered. Instead, it focuses on what its title suggests: “TAX WHISTLEBLOWERS:
Incomplete Data Hinders IRS’s Ability to Manage Claim Processing Time and Enhance External Communication.”

With no offense to the report’s authors at GAO, better data collection by the IRS Whistleblower Office will not determine whether the next big tax fraud scheme remains undetected, or is exposed by a whistleblower. These fundamental principles underlying any successful whistleblower program must be incorporated, so that the IRS Whistleblower Office is empowered to do its job most effectively.

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 SEC apparently recognized that its draft whistleblower rules already were too slanted toward protecting industry, at the expense of the public.

The Commission wisely rejected business’s attempt to require all whistleblowers first to commit likely 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 SEC put first its responsibility to protect investors, 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 whistleblower program.

The SEC also seemed to realize that its initial rules had too many exclusions, which were often vague and complex. Its initial rules created too much uncertainty about rewards, and would have left many major frauds undetected while investors suffer.

The SEC’s announcement shows an effort to do what make sense by not excluding so many potentially valuable whistleblowers, who are essential to uncovering and understanding complex schemes.

With more than 300 pages, the SEC whistleblower rules still may be more complex than needed. All in all, however, the rules are an improvement over the first draft, and the SEC is to be commended for putting the public’s interest first.

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.

Financial fraud can fall not only within the False Claims Act–the nation’s major whistleblower law–but also within the IRS Whistleblower Program and the new SEC Whistleblower Program and CFTC Whistleblower Program being created as a result of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

We have followed the IRS, SEC, and CFTC whistleblower programs carefully as we have pursued cases on behalf of our whistleblower clients. After meeting separately with the Chairman of the SEC and its commissioners, and later with the Chairman of the CFTC to discuss their agencies’ proposed whistleblower rules, I will be in D.C. on May 11 to address the IRS rules for whistleblower claims. Of course, the False Claims Act under which Deutsche Bank and MortgageIT were sued was the model for these newer whistleblower programs. We have written extensively about the dramatic success of this law enforcement statute in fighting fraud that robs taxpayer funds.