Articles Posted in SEC Whistleblower Program & CFTC Whistleblower Program

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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As we have written previously, the billions of “bailout” dollars to financial institutions through the TARP program inevitably would result in many fraud cases, including some by TARP whistleblowers.

Today, the SEC announced allegations of TARP fraud and securities fraud of more than $1.5 billion other violations against Lee B. Farkas, through his company Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corp. (TBW).

According to the SEC, Farkas “sold more than $1.5 billion worth of fabricated or impaired mortgage loans and securities to Colonial Bank. Those loans and securities were falsely reported to the investing public as high-quality, liquid assets. Farkas also was responsible for a bogus equity investment that caused Colonial Bank to misrepresent that it had satisfied a prerequisite necessary to qualify for TARP funds. When Colonial Bank’s parent company – Colonial BancGroup, Inc. – issued a press release announcing it had obtained preliminary approval to receive $550 million in TARP funds, its stock price jumped 54 percent in the remaining two hours of trading, representing its largest one-day price increase since 1983.”

Perhaps the SEC is showing a new attitude after the Madoff debacle. Whistleblowers should soon be able to participate in the new SEC whistleblower program, which is part of the financial reform legislation now being hashed out in conference committee.

The SEC’s full release is reprinted below:
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Congress is at a crossroads in deciding whether there will be a meaningful SEC Whistleblower Program–for the first time.

At this morning’s Offshore Alert conference in Miami, we heard from the SEC Chair’s Senior Advisor Stephen Cohen on this subject, as well as insight from IRS Whistleblower Office Director Steve Whitlock on how the IRS Whistleblower Program is now designed to encourage whistleblower claims.

As we have observed previously about the bills that would create an SEC Whistleblower program, past experience shows that an enforceable right to a meaningful reward is essential to cause whistleblowers to come forward.

The SEC apparently resists guaranteeing whistleblowers a minimum percentage of dollars recovered, as evidenced by the House version of the bill that lacks this feature. The SEC’s Steve Cohen explained that the SEC does not wish to commit funds that might otherwise go to harmed investors. He nonetheless contended that the SEC’s proposal may be better for whistleblowers because it pays from a special fund designated for this purpose, based on sanctions imposed, not collected.

Compare the experiences of the Justice Department and the IRS, however. When each had whistleblower statutes that provided no meaningful right to a reward, whistleblower claims were small and few. We have written extensively about the dramatic successes of the False Claims Act since its rewards increased to meaningful levels in 1986.

Likewise, IRS Whistleblower Office Director Steve Whitlock described again today how large whistleblower claims have exploded since December 2006, when Congress doubled rewards to whistleblowers to 15-30%, and created an enforceable right to those rewards.

History proves that most whistleblowers simply will remain silent, without a right to meaningful rewards. The SEC will be dividing a small pie unless Congress again embraces this principle.

To protect investors, those with information about fraud must have every incentive to speak up–as early as possible–and to be heard. The Madoff debacle proved that point.

In our experience in representing whistleblowers in the financial industry, the Senate’s version of the SEC whistleblower changes is highly preferable. It creates a right to awards of 10-30%.

There are still glaring deficiencies, such as the provisions excluding auditors who have tried unsuccessfully to call attention to fraud within the organizations and auditing firms involved. It will be an interesting next few weeks as Congress debates the final result.
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As Congress finally works to establish a more meaningful SEC whistleblower program, the SEC has just announced that it has charged Goldman Sachs and one of its vice presidents with fraud, in connection with a “financial product tied to subprime mortgages, as the U.S. housing market was beginning to falter.”

Often maligned for failing to protect investors before the recent financial crisis, the SEC now charges that Goldman structured and marketed a “synthetic collateralized debt obligation” (CDO) like those that “contributed to the recent financial crisis by magnifying losses associated with the downturn in the United States housing market,” and then violated the federal securities laws in connection with that product.

The SEC’s Complaint alleges a “securities fraud action against Goldman, Sachs & Co. (“GS&Co”) and a GS&Co employee, Fabrice Tourre (‘Tourre’), for making materially misleading statements and omissions in connection with a synthetic collateralized debt obligation (“CDO”) GS&Co structured and marketed to investors. This synthetic CDO, ABACUS 2007AC1, was tied to the performance of subprime residential mortgage-backed securities (“RMBS”) and was structured and marketed by GS&Co in early 2007 when the United States housing market and related securities were beginning to show signs of distress.”

The Complaint further charges:

Undisclosed in the marketing materials and unbeknownst to investors, a large hedge fund, Paulson & Co. Inc. (“Paulson”), with economic interests directly adverse to investors in the ABACUS 2007-AC1 CDO, played a significant role in the portfolio selection process. After participating in the selection of the reference portfolio, Paulson effectively shorted the RMBS portfolio it helped select by entering into credit default swaps (“CDS”) with GS&Co to buy protection on specific layers of the ABACUS 2007-AC1 capital structure. Given its financial short interest, Paulson had an economic incentive to choose RMBS that it expected to experience credit events in the near future. GS&Co did not disclose Paulson’s adverse economic interests or its role in the portfolio selection process in the term sheet, flip book, offering memorandum or other marketing materials provided to investors.

In sum, GS&Co arranged a transaction at Paulson’s request in which Paulson heavily influenced the selection of the portfolio to suit its economic interests, but failed to disclose to investors, as part of the description of the portfolio selection process contained in the marketing materials used to promote the transaction, Paulson’s role in the portfolio selection process or its adverse economic interests.

The full SEC anouncement is reprinted below.
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Post-Madoff, we have followed the legislative efforts to help establish an effective SEC whistleblower program. We know that the Senate Banking Committee in particular has worked hard in attempting to devise the best overall arrangement to encourage and reward whistleblowers who report fraud within the SEC’s jurisdiction.

Shortly before Congress authorized the first meaningful IRS Whistleblower Program in December 2006, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued its report on many of the changes needed for the IRS to use whistleblowers effectively.

Now, the SEC’s Inspector General David Kotz has issued his report, “Assessment of the SEC Bounty Program.” No one is surprised that it concludes that the SEC has not effectively encouraged, used, or rewarded whistleblowers over the past decades. Perhaps this report will pave the way for something meaningful–like the TIGTA report that preceded the now-promising IRS Whistleblower Program, which rewards whistleblowers with 15-30% of the government’s tax recoveries.

The SEC report recommends adopting the “best practices obtained from DOJ and the IRS into the SEC bounty program.” The SEC Inspector General’s report states as follows:

Although the SEC has had a bounty program in-place for more than 20 years for rewarding whistleblowers for insider trading tips and complaints, our review found that there have been very few payments made under this program.
Likewise, the Commission has not received a large number of applications from individuals seeking a bounty over this 20-year period. We also found that the program is not widely recognized inside or outside the Commission. Additionally,
while the Commission recently asked for expanded authority from Congress to reward whistleblowers who bring forward substantial evidence about other significant federal securities law violations, we found that the current SEC bounty program is not fundamentally well-designed to be successful.

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Since the Madoff and Stanford schemes proved ruinous to so many investors, many have asked why the SEC has no meaningful “whistleblower” program to expose wrongdoing, a topic we have written about previously.

Perhaps Harry Markopolis’ voice is finally being heard, albeit faintly. Last week, the House Financial Services Committee approved legislation that would expand both whistleblower rewards and whistleblower protections, among other things.

Still, past experience with the False Claims Act and the IRS Whistleblower statute shows that the proposed rewards need to be beefed up to be effective.

The “Investor Protection Act of 2009” (excerpted below) also would increase the SEC’s budget and make other changes designed to strengthen enforcement.

The new rewards to whistleblowers would be up to 30% of monetary sanctions of more than $1 million:

“In any judicial or administrative action brought by the Commission under the securities laws that results in monetary sanctions exceeding $1,000,000, the Commission, under regulations prescribed by the Commission and subject to subsection (b), may pay an award or awards not exceeding an amount equal to 30 percent, in total, of the monetary sanctions imposed in the action or related actions to one or more whistleblowers who voluntarily provided original information to the Commission that led to the successful enforcement of the action.”

The proposed new whistleblower rewards are reminiscent of those under the new IRS Whistleblower Program, but need at least two corrections to be effective.

First, the current SEC bill creates no enforceable “right” to a reward–a defect that made the old IRS Whistleblower statute ineffective before it was amended in December 2006.

Second, there should be a minimum percentage of perhaps 15% for the SEC rewards; it should not be left at 0-30%, as the bill now reads. Who would risk a 1% (or even lower) reward? The False Claims Act only became effective after 1986 amendments increased rewards to at least 15% in most cases. The new IRS Whistleblower law is attracting whistleblowers left and right because it provides for a minimum of 15% in most instances.

The proposed SEC law has one advantage over the IRS version: The IRS law unfortunately omits protection of whistleblowers from retaliation, but the proposed SEC whistleblower provisions would provide a remedy similar to that furnished whistleblowers under the False Claims Act. Here is what the proposed bill states (in part):

“An employee, contractor, or agent prevailing in any action brought under subparagraph (B) shall be entitled to all relief necessary to make that employee, contractor, or agent whole, including reinstatement with the same seniority status that the employee, contractor, or agent would have had, but for the discrimination, 2 times the amount of back pay, with interest, and compensation for any special damages sustained as a result of the discrimination, including litigation costs, expert witness fees, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.”

The bill’s proposed SEC whistleblower language is below; the entire bill may be found here:
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Could a meaningful SEC “whistleblower” program prevent the next Madoff or Stanford debacle? The SEC and legislators are now seriously considering that question. That Madoff managed to defraud investors for so long proves that the current system is inadequate.

Past experience proves that incentives to whistleblowers to report illegal acts work. The nation’s primary “anti-fraud” statute that protects federal funds, the False Claims Act, has been extremely successful in encouraging whistleblowers to come forward by allowing them to share in the government’s recovery.

As we have written about extensively on this whistleblower lawyer blog, based on the successes of the False Claims Act in fighting and deterring fraud, Congress has encouraged states to enact their own similar state false claims acts with incentives for whistleblowers to expose fraud (and almost half of the states now have such laws).

Likewise, in December 2006 Congress created the first meaningful IRS Whistleblower Program, which we regularly follow here. At present, the IRS Whistleblower Program created in December 2006 may help ferret out some SEC violations when the violator also has significant tax liability to the IRS.

Hedge fund abuses with tax consequences are already the subject of some IRS Whistleblower claims, and more will follow as the IRS Whistleblower Program gains notoriety. Based on our dealings with the IRS in pursuing these claims, this IRS Whistleblower Program has great promise.

But the IRS provisions simply do not cover all of the wrongdoing that goes on. Thus, the SEC desperately needs its own “whistleblower” program, with meaningful incentives to encourage citizens who report wrongdoing.

The SEC’s existing “whistleblower” provisions are too limited to be effective. 15 U.S.C. § 78U-1(e) authorizes a “bounty” to whistleblowers of what is effectively 0-10% of civil penalties paid in insider trading cases. (See full text here.) Thus, the SEC’s existing incentives are limited to insider trading cases, and do not address any other securities laws violations.

Like the “old” IRS Whistleblower rewards, very few awards have been made by the SEC, even in insider trading cases. Moreover, there is no “right” to a reward even if the whistleblower’s information causes the government to recover money from wrongdoers. A system of small, discretionary, and infrequent payments is simply ineffective to cause whistleblowers to come forward.

We understand that the SEC has been looking to correct this gap in protecting investors. This week, Rep.Paul E. Kanjorski (D-PA), the Chairman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government Sponsored Enterprises, released a letter from U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Inspector General H. David Kotz. The IG seems to understand the need to modernize the SEC’s incentives to whistleblowers, in his recommendations below:
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