12/12/2012 // San Francisco, CA, USA // Whistleblower Law Firm // Jeffrey Keller // (press release)
In its first year of operation, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of the Whistleblower (OWB) is already making a dent on securities fraud. In the fiscal year 2012, just over 3,000 tips were received, according to the office’s first annual report, released in November. The office notched 143 whistle blower-facilitated enforcement actions in which sanctions exceeded $1 million, and in August 2012, made its first award, when a whistleblower who helped the SEC stop a multimillion-dollar fraud received a 30 percent share of the sanctions collected by the government.
Established by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, the OWB follows the success of other whistleblower efforts — in particular, the federal False Claims Act, which has led to the recovery of more than $30 billion for the government since it was substantially amended in 1986.
For enabling recoveries, whistleblowers typically receive a share of the amount that is ultimately paid by those who have committed fraudulent or other wrongful acts. The Dodd-Frank provisions authorize the OWB to make rewards in the amount of 10 to 30 percent of all monetary sanctions ultimately collected.
“What OWB’s annual report shows is the powerful impact that whistleblower programs — and a system that incentivizes integrity – can have on fraud,” says Jeffrey F. Keller, a founding partner at Keller Grover, a nationally recognized labor and employment law firm, and a veteran whistleblower lawyer. “The report also shows that a key component to making these efforts successful is education — getting the word out on what kinds of improper activity are covered by whistleblower programs and how individuals can play a vital role in stamping out fraud.”
To that end, the OWB devoted substantial resources in its first year to outreach and educational initiatives. These, the annual report noted, included maintaining and updating the OWB website to better inform the public about the whistleblower program. Videos provide an overview of the program and information on how tips are handled, as well as answers to frequently asked questions. The office also implemented a whistleblower hotline, where OWB staffers can provide help and details about the program.
“Outreach like this is crucial,” says Keller, whose firm has offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. “Most whistleblowers are not even aware, initially, that the behavior they see triggers programs like the SEC’s or statutes like the False Claims Act. They may be questioning actions by their employer, but they haven’t necessarily connected that what they are seeing wrong in the workplace rises to the level of a fraud. Educational efforts by agencies like the SEC, as well as guidance from experienced employment lawyers, can help individuals understand what behavior is covered by whistleblower programs and how those programs can support and reward those who step forward.”
The OWB’s annual report also broke down the types and origins of the thousands of tips that came in during fiscal 2012. The most common complaint categories reported by whistleblowers were Corporate Disclosures and Financials (18.2 percent), Offering Fraud (15.5 percent), and Manipulation (15.2 percent). The Commission received whistleblower tips from individuals in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico (California led with 435 tips, followed by New York with 246).
Tips were received, too, from 49 countries outside the United States. The largest block — 74 tips — came from the United Kingdom, with Canada (46), India (33), the People’s Republic of China (27), and Australia (21) rounding out the Top 5.
“It’s safe to say that the SEC’s whistleblower office is off to a strong start,” says Keller. “The ripple effect of this is important. When people come forward and report fraud, they don’t just help eliminate fraud. They also restore confidence in the integrity of our financial markets. There’s just no way to quantify how valuable that is to all of us.”
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