Record-Breaking $114 Million Whistleblower Informant Award

Whistleblower Attorney Explains How to Safely Expose Wrongdoing

Video Transcript:

Jason Brown:

The minute you make that phone call, they are looking for a way to get rid of you. You better speak with a whistleblower law firm first.

Rob Rosenthal:

A record amount of money was just recently awarded in a whistleblower case. Could information you have lead you to get a big award? We’re going to find out on today's episode of Ask the Lawyer.

Hi again, everybody. I'm Rob Rosenthal with askthelawyers.com, and my guest is attorney Jason Brown, based in New Jersey. Jason, good to see again. Thank you for helping us out again today.

Jason Brown:

Good morning. Thank you again for having me.

Rob Rosenthal:

So let's just talk a little bit. First of all, tell us about this recent record whistleblower reward. What happened?

Jason Brown:

Well, there was $114 million awarded to one whistleblower who had the courage and conviction, I would say, to come forth, but to present the information through a whistleblower lawyer to the SEC regarding a matter of importance. And it certainly has been a priority of the SEC to crack down on wrongful conduct in the industry. When I fail to state the individual's identity, the one receiving the money, it's because the SEC has a remarkable program in which whistleblowers can stay anonymous from start to finish.

Rob Rosenthal:

Wow, and that's unusual in the whistleblower arena?

Jason Brown:

It is unusual a lot of times in different areas. In whistleblower law, attorneys try creative methods to shield the identity of the whistleblower, which you can do for protracted periods of time. But, for example, in the False Claims Act, at the end of the day, the identity may be disclosed if the person uses their name in the complaint. With the SEC program, if you use an SEC whistleblower lawyer, the individual can stay anonymous from start to finish.

Rob Rosenthal:

The thing I can't stop thinking about, Jason, is if the award that whistleblower got was $114 million, that's only usually a percentage of whatever the big loss to the government was, I just can't help but think of how big that was.

Jason Brown:

Well, the government hasn’t yet proclaimed the total recovery publicly, but generally the award the whistleblower can get in an SEC action is 10% to 30% of what the government recovers that is attributable to the information from that particular whistleblower.

Rob Rosenthal:

Let's talk about how somebody becomes an SEC whistleblower. Is it similar to other whistleblower cases?

Jason Brown:

It is, but it's also very discrete in the areas of information that individual needs to be privy to. It generally has to be information which the individual has that involves an SEC regulated or governed type of interest or profession. Some examples are accounting fraud, money laundering, inside trading. An example I like to use is, if you’ve ever seen the movie Wall Street, a lot of times this involves Wall Street itself, and Gordon Gekko in that movie gives a famous line where he says greed is good. And when the company thinks that greed is good, and puts the interests of the company ahead of the interest of its clients, a lot of times there will be something that's actionable in the SEC context, and if not the SEC context, a critical analysis theory from a quality whistleblower law firm. We'll understand whether or not it's actionable to attack it from a different context as well.

Rob Rosenthal:

So if somebody thinks they've got information about wrongdoing—let's stick with the SEC—the very first thing they should do is contact an attorney who has experience in this area?

Jason Brown:

They certainly should. They need to go to a whistleblower law firm, an SEC whistleblower law firm. There's a handful with track records in the country that, if you do your due diligence, you could find out. It's important to interact with the SEC in the right way. Our background with me as head of the firm, as a former FBI Special Agent, we dealt with crossover from the criminal perspective from the SEC versus the regulatory, but you certainly want to deal with the firm that knows what they're doing. This week alone we just closed the case for an individual who had an SEC component, and we were able to get that individual in principle, the ink hasn’t dried yet, but over a half a million dollars for their particular settlement.

Rob Rosenthal:

So I think we've already touched on my next question, but what they have to gain is some monetary award for these whistleblowers.

Jason Brown:

Absolutely. In the SEC program alone, we just talked about the $114 million for one individual, which really tips the scale about how well this program has been going since it's only been in creation since 2012. Since 2012, there's been over $700 million awarded to whistleblowers for doing the right thing. And that's just if the firm is linear thinking and just attacks it from an SEC perspective.

There's also billions that have been awarded in the False Claims Act perspective, and if you're smart, intuitive, and understand the fact patterns—for example, individuals in the financial space may know what individuals are doing with, for example, PPP loans. They may be taking the money that's purposed for employees and with their fiduciaries then putting it to themselves in some capacity, and insiders in the industry may be able to blow the whistle on conduct like that as well. It wouldn't be an SEC violation or SEC whistleblower, but could be a False Claims Act whistleblower. So you need to go to a firm that has not just tunnel vision, but understands the big picture, how to maximize the potential opportunity if you have information about wrongful conduct.

Rob Rosenthal:

So that individual person may not need to understand the big picture, but that's why they hire somebody like yourself, that does understand all the intricacies involved.

Jason Brown:

Absolutely, a lot of times when we do an initial intake, people gloss over what the substantial part of the case is, and they may think it's not that relevant, it's not that important. “Oh yeah, we're paying people kick-backs to get business, but everybody's doing it, so I don't wanna talk about that.” And that may be the core crux of the case, and they may not even realize it.

A lot of times, the corruption is so institutional, so incestual people are seasoned and taught that this is proper, they don't even think for a second that it could be improper. So if we have a candid conversation with our clients where they feed us the information and we have a candid discourse back, telling people what their rights are and potential avenues of recovery; generally, if there's a path, it could be very fruitful conversation and enriching conversation at the end of the day.

Rob Rosenthal:

You mentioned the anonymity for the SEC whistleblower. Does the whistleblower have to worry that their employer is going to find out at any point in the process?

Jason Brown:

With the SEC, technically under the rules, if they use an SEC whistleblower attorney, while it's not 100% guaranteed we're not aware of any instances in which somebody has been outed. In contrast with litigation or even a qui tam under the False Claims Act, something very interesting happens, because this is an administrative regulatory agency. The SEC defendant is never served a copy of any complaint unless the SEC wants it to. So if you file something, you come up short, and they say it's wrong, well, they're not served. It's not a public docket with your name on it or anything like that.

So even though I can't pronounce anonymity very well, I can tell you that it's a great feature to be anonymous if you want to with the case along this line. And the second point is if at some point, for whatever reason, somebody's identity is disclosed or the whistleblower does want to attach their name to it, there's very strident protections under the law for whistleblowers under the SEC Whistleblower Program. And I know from speaking to the chief of the SEC Whistleblower Program, that they are looking to make an example of somebody if they do retaliate against the whistleblower. Our firm always looks to make examples of companies that are engaged in egregious wrongdoing. We protect whistleblowers. We strongly protect whistleblowers; it is a focus of our practice. If somebody does something to somebody we represent, we try to hit back much harder than they do.

Rob Rosenthal:

Two more quick questions, Jason. So, I know a lot of these big companies, they probably have an internal whistleblower line, where they tell you if you know of wrongdoing, call this 800 number. What's your advice? Should they do that? Should they do that and contact a firm like yours or contact an attorney first?

Jason Brown:

I always chuckle when I hear that because that's a one-way ticket to getting yourself fired. Call that anonymous line, and in the age of big tech everybody knows everything. The minute you make that phone call, they are looking for a way to get rid of you. You better speak with the whistleblower law firm first before making that phone call. It doesn't have to be our firm, but from everything I've seen, they conduct mole hunts, they know exactly who is calling, and they sometimes try to pin it on the person that makes that call, make that person be the fall guy or fall girl.

Speak with a law firm first, so you understand your rights, your strategies, whether or not you need to exit depending upon how egregious the conduct is, but don't call a line that will ultimately probably get you fired at the end of that.

Rob Rosenthal:

Is there a cost to the whistleblower to commence action when they contact your firm?

Jason Brown:

With our firm, the wonderful part is there's no fee unless we win the case. We will extensively consult and speak with individuals about their rights and different options. Another great part about our firm, as we mentioned, is that conduct from the SEC is in Wall Street. We're at Wall Street West. So right now, as I'm looking at you, I slightly look out the window, we're looking over the Hudson out Wall Street. We're in a discrete location, very accessible, six-minute subway ride from Wall Street West, where—if it were not the age of Zoom and phone calls—you could come on in and discreetly talk to us and not worry that you're going to run into anybody and have to do some explaining. But the bulk of the consultations we do anyway, at this point are telephonic.

Rob Rosenthal:

Super interesting information as always, Jason. Thank you so much for taking some time and answering our questions.

Jason Brown:

Thank you for having me.

Rob Rosenthal:

Well, that's it for this episode of Ask the Lawyer. My guest has been attorney Jason Brown. Remember, if you'd like to get the very best information or you'd like to make sure you can choose a lawyer that lawyers choose, visit askthelawyers.com. Thanks for watching. I'm Rob Rosenthal with AskTheLawyers™.

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