When does the statute of limitations clock start running in a False Claims Act (FCA) case when the government declines to intervene in a whistleblower case?  That is the question the Supreme Court will consider when it takes up Cochise Consultancy, Inc. v. United States.

The National Whistleblower Center filed an amicus curiae brief in the case this week.

At issue: Must an FCA plaintiff rely on the statute of limitations in a suit in which the United States declines to intervene?  If so, does the three-year limitations period begins to run from the date of the whistleblower’s knowledge of the alleged false claim, or from the date of the government official’s knowledge of the alleged false claim?

The brief, written by NWC executive director Stephen M. Kohn, notes that his organization takes the position that the “merits of a claim often bear no relation to the duration of a case.” Continue Reading Brief: Supreme Court needs to uphold False Claims Act statute of limitations as “clearly set forth in the law.”

Where do federal employees go to appeal a suspension or report on-the-job retaliation for exposing mismanagement?  Nowhere lately.

Yet this week, Congress will try to address the problem.

MSPB logoThe Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on Wednesday will once again consider nominees to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), while the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will hold a hearing to discuss the issue on Thursday. That three-person board, which hears appeals of lower level personnel decisions, has only one member at the moment.

The Board hears whistleblower cases and is the backstop for maintaining a non-partisan, professional civil service as the sole enforcement body on many cases. It has not had a quorum since just before President Trump took office. The MSPB needs a quorum of two to act. The term of the single sitting member, Mark A. Robbins, is scheduled to end on February 28.

A February 8 Washington Post column about unfilled political position mentions the MSPB. The White House did send nominees to the Senate, writes Joe Davidson. More here from the Post.  Continue Reading Another try to confirm MSPB board nominees. Then, on to a 2,000 case backlog.

The proposed European Parliament directive on whistleblower protection could make it more difficult for individuals to come forward with information about wrongdoing, according to a group transparency and anti-corruption groups.

At issue is a provision that requires employees to report potential crimes and fraud internally before going to regulators and law enforcement.

Whistleblower Protection in EUIf this mandatory internal disclosure regime stands, the directive will have abandoned responsible Europeans who raise concerns appropriately to their employers through their supervisors or normal management channels of communication, who disclose information to competent authorities who have the power and mandate to address wrongdoing, or who provide information to the journalists who investigate and report in the public interest. They will suffer. Europe will suffer.

 

The letter also makes the following points:

• It allows law enforcement and regulatory bodies to do their jobs properly;
• It ensures employers take seriously their responsibility to make it safe and acceptable to report internally; and
• There is no evidence this undermines internal channels as the genuine first port of call for individuals
• It protects freedom of expression. Continue Reading The effort to improve whistleblower protection in Europe will fail unless insiders can seek help from outsiders

A man once called “America’s most famous whistleblower” has died at the age of 92. In 1968, A. Ernest Fitzgerald, a top financial manager for the Air Force, revealed a $2.3 billion cost overrun in the Air Forces’ Lockheed C-5 aircraft program. He did it before Congress and in defiance of his superiors.

From The Washington Post 

Under oath, he said the C-5A was $2 billion over budget. In testifying, Mr. Fitzgerald later said, he was merely “committing truth.” The revelation about the vast cost overruns made national headlines, stunning members of Congress as well as Mr. Fitzgerald’s superiors.

In 1996, he received the Paul H. Douglas Award,  given each year to a “government official … whose public actions or writings have made a significant contribution to the practice and understanding of ethical behavior in government.”

A biography posted on the award program website described the retribution against Fitzgerald.

Continue Reading A. Ernest Fitzgerald, once called “America’s most famous whistleblower,” dies at 92

Whistleblowers helped the IRS collect more than $1.4 billion in criminal fines, civil forfeitures, and reporting violations in fiscal year 2018, according to an agency report released Wednesday.

Of that record amount, more than $300 million went to whistleblowers – an average of 21.7 percent of proceeds collected.  That’s an increase from fiscal year 2017, when the average reward was 17 percent.

It was a record setting year in proceeds collected and award amounts paid, according to Lee D. Martin, director of the IRS Whistleblower Office. Since 2007, the program has made more than $800 million in whistleblower awards based on the collection of $5 billion.

In a written statement, Stephen M. Kohn, president of the National Whistleblower Center, called the report “the best news of the year for whistleblowers.”  The IRS program is now working well, he wrote. “Whistleblowers who witness tax frauds will be encouraged to take the risk, and report the crimes. This is game changing.”

Continue Reading Whistleblowers helped the IRS collect more money than ever last year: $1.4 billion in fines and forfeiture

Several US whistleblower laws have international applications that have been used to fight fraud and corruption worldwide.

The laws are key to anti-bribery efforts, and insider disclosures have already resulted in millions of dollars in fines in the U.S. and beyond, Washington-based lawyer Stephen M. Kohn told a group of international anti-corruption organizations on Friday, February 1.

The “International Conference on Anticorruption Policies” took place in Attica, Greece and was sponsored by the Hellenic Anti-Corruption Organization. Kohn, who is director of the National Whistleblowers Center, was one of the speakers.

Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), and IRS anti-fraud laws, the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) can all be applied internationally.

But whistleblowers need to be rewarded and protected from retribution, Kohn said.  He has urged the European Parliament to strengthen its proposed whistleblower directive to protect the identity of anonymous whistleblowers.

U.S. whistleblower programs allow for the protection of witnesses and detection of corrupt activities, including bribes paid to politicians by multi-national corporations, Kohn said. Penalties act to deter fraud and bribery.

Without these programs, the costs of exposing fraud and bribery is prohibitive, Kohn said.

Continue Reading U.S. laws and strong international whistleblower programs could bolster anti-corruption efforts worldwide    

Some might see whistleblowers as lucky lottery winners when their multimillion-dollar rewards come through. But, the title of the piece in the February 4 issue of The New Yorker reflects the other side of the story: “The Personal Toll of Whistleblowing”

“Whistleblowers are usually, but not always, employees or members of the group on which they’re blowing the whistle; after they do so, their lives are never the same,” writes Sheelah Kolhatkar. She joined The New Yorker in 2016 after a writing about Wall Street and financial crime for Bloomberg Businessweek.

“Institutional denial, obfuscation, and retaliation are hallmarks of many whistle-blowing cases,” she writes.

new york whistleblower artKolhatkar runs through a list of notable whistleblowers, including  New York City police officer Frank Serpico,  tobacco company whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand; Sherron Watkins of Enron; and National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.  That they were all portrayed in Hollywood films is no surprise. Whistleblower tales are often David versus Goliath dramas.

Continue Reading A New Yorker story makes the case: Whistleblowers need protection against retaliation

On January 30, 2019, Reps. Don Young (R-AK) and John Garamendi (D-CA) introduced the Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act of 2019 (H.R. 864). This bipartisan, groundbreaking legislation enhances the ability of informants worldwide to detect and report wildlife crimes. It also strengthens the laws criminalizing trafficking.

In a joint press release, both representatives recognized the importance of halting poachers, traffickers, and transnational criminal organizations—all of which are responsible for exacerbating the global extinction crisis. Furthermore, as Congressman Garamendi points out, “Our bipartisan bill advances American leadership in tackling the global wildlife trafficking and poaching crisis at no cost to the American taxpayer.” Continue Reading Landmark Bill Combating Wildlife Trafficking Reintroduced in the House

If poachers and wildlife trafficking networks operate like international criminal syndicates, why not treat them that way? That’s one approach outlined in a bill reintroduced in Congress today designed to bolster efforts to use whistleblower rewards to stop wildlife crime. 

The bill aims to address problems with existing wildlife whistleblower programs that were identified in May by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). It expands on existing whistleblower provisions and calls for new rules and the authority to enforce them.

The Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act was reintroduced by Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska – who calls himself an avid sportsman — and California Democrat John Garamendi, who describes himself a conservationist and outdoorsman.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “NOAA) each currently have the option to reward whistleblowers who expose poaching, trafficking and other wildlife crimes. But, the 2018 GAO audit found that agencies’ programs are underused and inefficiently implemented.

The Wildlife Conservation and Anti-Trafficking Act would give more muscle to existing programs. The bill also would require that penalties and fine from prosecutions be redistributed to wildlife conservation efforts.

Continue Reading Bill would bolster reward programs that allow US agencies to fight wildlife crime with whistleblowers

Much of the $234 billion laundered through the Danske Bank started in Russia and ended in the U.S, as dollars, a whistleblower told the European Parliament in November.

Rep. McHenry

Now, a growing number of U.S. investigators want to know more. Last week, the heads of two congressional committees asked Deutsche Bank for information related to its lending practices and its role in a series of money laundering scandals, according to several news reports. Federal agencies are asking questions too.

The House is preparing to investigate Deutsche Bank’s handling of suspicious transactions from Denmark’s Danske Bank, according to a report in Politico.  Danske Bank is now is under investigation in relation to a massive, international money laundering scheme involving its Estonian branch banks. Continue Reading A whistleblower said laundered money made it from Russia to the US. Lawmakers here want to know how.