Articles Posted in SEC Whistleblower Program & CFTC Whistleblower Program

This week in a rare occurrence, the heads of the IRS and SEC Whistleblower programs and federal and state False Clams Act officials participated in one conference to discuss prosecuting and defending whistleblower cases.

Our firm has organized this “Whistleblower Law Symposium” since 2007 to explore developments in the growing number of federal and state whistleblower laws that seek to stop fraud against taxpayer funds.

“Sequestration” threatened to keep some major speakers from participating because of travel restrictions. The solution was “beaming in” Sean McKessey, Director of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, and Steve Whitlock, Director of the IRS Whistleblower Office, to join our panelists by videoconference.

The conference began with an overview I provided of the country’s major whistleblower law, the False Claims Act. Its successes since 1986 inspired Congress to create both the new IRS Whistleblower Program in 2006, and the new SEC Whistleblower Program in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.

An excellent discussion of the False Claims Act in health care followed, led by Rick Shackelford of King & Spalding, LLP. Rick was joined by my former partner John E. Floyd of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore, LLP; Daniel P. Griffin of Miller & Martin, PLLC; and Marlon Wilbanks of Wilbanks & Bridges, LLP.

Another panel then analyzed Georgia’s New 2012 “Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act, a 2012 state False Claims Act that I helped draft. This law encompasses all spending by state, county, municipal, and other local governments in Georgia. Nels Peterson, who as Georgia’s Solicitor General is charged with overseeing the implementation of the new statute, explained the framework of the law.

Because the new state FCA applies to fraud against local governments as well, we also heard how the Act might be used by cities and counties. Mary Carole Cooney, former Atlanta Deputy City Attorney, and Bill Linkous, former Dekalb County Attorney, provided their perspectives on how the new whistleblower law might expose fraud in various areas of local government spending.

SEC Whistleblower Chief Sean McKessey then joined us electronically to discuss the most pressing issues in bringing (and defending) SEC Whistleblower claims.
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The SEC Whistleblower Program authorized in 2010’s Dodd-Frank law has greater significance because the SEC and the Justice Department share jurisdiction over Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases.

Today, SEC Director of Enforcement Robert Khuzami and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer released the “Resource Guide to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.” They describe the Guide as “a unprecedented undertaking by DOJ and SEC to provide the public with detailed information about our FCPA enforcement approach and priorities.”

FCPA investigations have increased significantly in the past few years, and the dollar amount of these cases is often quite large. FCPA cases brought by SEC whistleblowers will only add to amount of FCPA violations uncovered.

The Guide is a primer on the FCPA. The SEC and DOJ have attempted to summarize “who and what is covered by the FCPA’s anti-bribery and accounting provisions; the definition of a ‘foreign official’; what constitute proper and improper gifts, travel and entertainment expenses; the nature of facilitating payments; how successor liability applies in the mergers and acquisitions context; the hallmarks of an effective corporate compliance program; and the different types of civil and criminal resolutions available in the FCPA context.”

Chapter 3 describes the accounting provisions over which the SEC has authority. When a defendant pays commercial bribes to foreign officials, the offending companies often disguise the payments through false accounting entries. The FCPA creates civil liability for such violations of the Act’s “books and records” provision.

The FCPA’s “internal controls” provision is also important, as it requires that issuers devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls to assure management’s control,authority, and responsibility over the firm’s assets.
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This morning’s announcement that the SEC has made its first award to a whistleblower under its new SEC Whistleblower Program established by Dodd-Frank leaves some clues about the message the SEC intends to send.

Speed: The SEC wasted no time–the award came barely two years after Dodd-Frank’s passage, and a little more than a year after the SEC finalized its SEC whistleblower rules. SEC Office of the Whistleblower Sean McKessy had seemed eager to have the SEC move quickly to utilize whistleblower information, and he upheld his end of the bargain in making a prompt award.

Modesty of amount: The first award was $50,000, which was 30% of the amount collected by the SEC–the maximum percentage permitted. I was surprised that the SEC did not select a larger dollar case for its first award, in order to attract further attention to the program. It may be that this case was the first one mature enough to conclude. If so, I applaud Sean McKessy for simply making the awards as soon as they can reasonably be made.

When the SEC debated in 2011 requiring “internal” reporting within companies as a prerequisite to filing an SEC Whistleblower claim under Dodd-Frank, business interests howled that any other rule would “destroy” compliance programs.

Never mind that the vast majority of whistleblowers have always raised concerns about illegal conduct internally before reporting to the government. Whistleblower lawyers already knew that fact from twenty-five years of experience with the False Claims Act–the nation’s major qui tam whistleblower law that inspired the new SEC Whistleblower Program. The availability of rewards had not dissuaded whistleblowers from reporting their concerns internally for a quarter century.

When I met in 2011 with SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro and the other SEC Commissioners with other whistleblower advocates to discuss the proposed SEC Whistleblower rules, it was apparent–and shocking–that this false argument was being considered seriously. We urged the SEC to rely on these years of experience with the False Claims Act and to reject any such requirement.

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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