The New York Times was blunt in its series on crime at sea: “Few places on the planet are as lawless as the high seas, where egregious crimes are routinely committed with impunity.”

Whistleblowers are key to exposing those crimes, including illegal dumping from ships, according speakers at a Tuesday webinar broadcast from Washington. The panel looked at the role private citizens and whistleblowers play in the detecting off-shore crimes, including those that violate a law known as the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS).

“Enforcing, let alone detecting violations on the open ocean– with how vast it is — is just inherently difficult,” said Anton DeStefano, Lieutenant Commander of the U.S Coast Guard’s environmental law division. He noted that we was speaking for himself, not the agency.

Continue Reading From cruise ships to tankers, big boats dump waste into the ocean. Whistleblowers can stop them.

The European Union approved EU whistleblower protection rules Tuesday.

Virginie Rozière EU member head shot
Virginie Rozière / Wikimedia Commons

“This is a good step toward protecting whistleblowers and toward protecting European democracy,” Virginie Rozière, a member the European Parliament (MEP) said in French at a press conference following the decision.

The new law, approved by the European Parliament on Tuesday, shields whistleblowers from retaliation. It also creates “safe channels” to allow them to report breaches of EU law. It is the first time whistleblowers have been given EU-wide protection.

The rules have previously been in the hands of member states, resulting in a range of vastly different approaches.The law was approved by 591 votes, with 29 votes against and 33 abstentions.

Moments after the vote, Virginie Roziere, the French centre-left MEP who steered the file through the parliament, in a tweet claimed victory for European democracy.

“There were a lot of links in the chain for this to be passed,” she said at a press conference in Strasbourg, noting that the negotiations had taken some 13 months.

Danske Bank Whistleblower EU testimony
Kohn and Wilkinson at the EU Parliament

Both Danske Bank whistleblower, Howard Wilkinson, and his attorney, Stephen M. Kohn, chair of the National Whistleblower Center, pushed for stronger protections in the law.

Wilkinson testified before a European Parliament Committee in November. In a letter to EU, Kohn noted the proposed E.U. whistleblower directive “should not undermine the ability of whistleblowers to remain confidential, throughout the reporting process, as this creates the opportunity to intimidate witnesses and may tip criminals off to the evidence against them.”  Continue Reading The European Union approves whistleblower protection rules, 591 to 29

After Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pineda of the California Air National Guard reported finding her boots full of urine, she felt the investigation had turned into a cover-up.  From the LA Times on this military whistleblower case: 

In August 2015, Pineda filed a whistle-blower complaint. She wrote that the main investigator told her that the evidence showed that a woman could not have urinated in the boots, but that she heard that officers speculated that she urinated in them “for attention.” In the complaint, Pineda said that “makes me want this investigation to be complete and legit to prove that I did not do this to myself.” She added that she feared she could be forced to leave the guard.

On Friday, the Times reported that a third high-ranking officer in the Guard has been removed from his position in connection with the case. Earlier this month, the paper reported that the head of the California Air National Guard and one of its commanders had been removed in connection with the case.

Friday’s report on the latest news said:

 Col. Victor Sikora was relieved of command after engaging in “conduct unbecoming of an officer” by addressing a gathering of Guard members in a manner some found intimidating and humiliating, according to a report released Friday.

Continue Reading Unprofessional leadership cited in Air National Guard whistleblower case. Now those leaders are out.  

More whistleblowing in the halls of Congress and other news of the week. 

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee,  issued a statement this week in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).

“We honor the contributions of the brave men and women who report wrongdoing despite great risks to their careers and personal lives as a result of retaliation.  Without the WPA, very few whistleblowers would be willing to come forward.  Congress relies on the WPA to fulfill its Constitutional duty to provide checks and balances on the Executive Branch—the very root of our democracy.”

He noted the role of whistleblowers in the Committee’s investigation into reports of White House efforts to transfer sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

The Atlantic reported last week that “small army of whistle-blowers from across the government has been working in secret with the House Oversight Committee to report alleged malfeasance inside the Trump administration. Lawmakers and aides are reluctant to discuss information they have gleaned from anonymous government tipsters in detail. But the list of whistle-blowers who either currently or previously worked in the Trump administration, or who worked closely with the administration, numbers in the ‘dozens’,” according to an aide to Cummings, a Maryland Democrat.

NPR also reported on the anniversary of the WPA.

ROBERT MACLEAN: Everybody in my neighborhood and my family thought I was insane and I was fighting a futile fight.

…That’s how it felt for Robert MacLean, a federal air marshal who, in 2003, told the public that the TSA canceled air marshal coverage on long-haul flights to cover budget shortfalls.

Continue Reading Don’t die waiting for an IRS whistleblower award. Get better service on Capitol Hill?

A provisional rule approved in March by the European Commission and member countries ensures “robust” protection for whistleblowers, according to the agency’s response to a letter from the National Whistleblower Center (NWC).

Click for EU whistleblower video

Under the proposed rule, whistleblowers would be permitted to report wrongdoing to outside authorities before reporting to their company or agency internal review program. Earlier versions required internal reporting first, which the NWC believes would interfere with the right of employees to confidentially report suspected crimes.

The new rule specifically addresses that issue, wrote Georgia Georgiadou, deputy head of the EU’s Fundamental Rights Policy program. in a letter to Stephen M. Kohn of the NWC.

In particular as regards the agreed rules on reporting channels, whistleblowers are encouraged to report first internally, if the breach they want to reveal can be effectively addressed within their organisation and they consider that there is no risk of retaliation. They may also report directly to the competent authorities as they see fit, in light of the circumstances of the case. Continue Reading EU Commission responds to whistleblowers asking for protection: We’ve got your back

Wildlife trafficking on Facebook took a hit last week, with  Agence France-Press (AFP) reporting that five men were arrested in Indonesia in connection with selling Komodo dragons and other wild animals through Facebook

According to AFP:

The vast Southeast Asian archipelago nation’s dense tropical rainforests boast some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world and it has for years been a key source and transit point for animal trafficking.

East Java police said they arrested the suspects on Java island for allegedly trafficking the large lizard, as well as bearcats, cockatoos and cassowary birds. The Komodo dragons can be sold for $1,000 to $1,400 each, they told AFP.   Continue Reading Facebook isn’t safe for reptiles. Smugglers busted in Java had five big lizards for sale

The New York Times headline inspired retired Environmental Protection Agency staffer William Sanjour to write to the editor.

The headline read: “Whistle-Blower Did the Unexpected: She Returned to Work”

Why are you surprised that a whistle-blower went back to work?” he wrote in a letter posted Wednesday. “I was a whistle-blower at the Environmental Protection Agency and went back to work for 20 years and continued to blow the whistle, as did several of my whistle-blowing colleagues. That’s the law.”

The law he refers to is the Whistleblower Protection Act and Sanjour relied on it as a long-time critic of his own agency.

The Times story he refers to was about Tricia Newbold, a White House security office staffer. This weekend, she told Congressional investigators that senior White House officials overruled security staff and granted clearances to 25 employees.     Continue Reading Why shouldn’t a White House whistleblower go back to work, asks former EPA whistleblower who did

Whistleblowers play a big role in rooting out corporate crime and government misdeeds that take place behind closed doors. They also have a role in flagging environmental crimes that happen out-of-site on the high seas.

On April 16, a panel of environmentalists, advocates and lawyers will discuss marine pollution laws and the role private citizens and whistleblowers play in the detecting off-shore crimes. The webinar will cover both the benefits and challenges of using “unconventional actors” in marine law compliance efforts.

Event sponsors include the Environmental Law Institute, the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (INECE) and National Whistleblower Center (NWC).

The groups note on website for the event that it is part of an ongoing series of discussions examining “how whistleblower laws, emerging technologies, and citizen engagement are transforming the landscape of environmental enforcement today. The series aims to build capacity among government agencies, non-profit organizations and individuals about whistleblower considerations.” Continue Reading Coming up: Learning how to use environmental whistleblowers to stop pollution at sea

Two major whistleblower awards were revealed late last week.

Reuters is reporting a $1.7 million award to three Takata employees who exposed problems in airbag inflators.

In a separate case, CareWell Urgent Care Centers will pay a $2 million to two states and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to settle a case involving both overbilling and unnecessary care. The walk-in clinics allegedly overbilled Medicaid and the insurance plan for state employees, according to a release issued Friday from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. 

The case was triggered after a former CareWell nurse practitioner came forward, according to a story in The Boston Globe.

Aileen Cartier, who worked at several of the company’s locations for almost two years, said managers told staff to take medical histories and perform exams on patients that far exceeded what was needed for their simple ailments. Continue Reading Health and Human Services whistleblower rewarded. NTSA whistleblowers take a different route

Two SEC whistleblowers have been awarded a total of $50 million for exposing conflict-of-interest problems with investment advisors at JPMorgan Chase Bank

The Securities and Exchange Commission announced the awards but did not offer any details of the case. However, lawyers for one whistleblower revealed it involved a 2015 $267 million settlement with the bank.

JPMorgan Chase Bank advisors invested clients’ money in JPMorgan hedge funds and mutual funds without properly disclosing the conflicts of interest, According to the 2015 settlement, some of the funds produced less revenue than other investments.

In an announcement of the award, Jane Norberg, head of SEC’s whistleblower program, wrote that insiders can “be the source of ‘smoking gun’ evidence and indispensable assistance that strengthens the agency’s ability to protect investors and the capital markets.”

One whistleblower won $13 million and the other received $37  million. The SEC announcement noted that the latter award was the third-highest award to date after the $50 million March 2018 award and a September 2018  $39 million award.

Continue Reading $50 million for two SEC whistleblowers who exposed conflict-of-interest problems at JPMorgan