Who is a Whistleblower?
Anyone who exposes fraud or theft against the Federal Government and some states, as well as people who act to stop securities and tax fraud, based upon some inside knowledge. A whistleblower is a courageous person that learns of someone who is stealing from the taxpayers or cheating investors and puts an end to the wrongful activity. Often, but not always, these people work for companies who are systematically cheating the Government. Though some use the term “whistleblower” for a person who acts to stop private wrongs (affecting only private companies), the law rewards those who help the Federal and state governments and offers them special protections against retaliation by the wrongdoer.
What is considered a fraud against a government?
It is a fraud when someone lies in order to get money that they are not entitled to. A contractor who bills the government for services which they do not actually provide is committing fraud. A doctor or hospital who submits an invoice to Medicare or Medicaid claiming to have spent one hour with a patient whom they saw for only 30 minutes is committing fraud. A manufacturer who sells the Army helmets which it knows are defective is committing fraud. A university that spends Federal grant money for something not covered by the grant is committing fraud. Most forms of intentional or knowing cheating are considered fraud. Even suppliers who lack actual knowledge of the fraud but who should have known that their invoices are wrong can be penalized under these Qui Tam laws.
What rights does a Whistleblower have?
A federal law called the False Claims Act (and seminal laws enacted by some states) provides that a whistleblower is to be paid a percentage of any money recovered by the government as a result of the whistleblower’s actions. This reward can be truly substantial – amounting to between 15 and 30% of a judgment. A whistleblower is also entitled to be awarded money damages if they prove that they have been punished by their employer (fired, demoted, black-balled, etc.) for reporting the fraud and that they lost wages or incurred other losses as a result of this illegal retaliation.
What are the risks for a Whistleblower?
If the case is mishandled, a whistleblower may be denied all compensation whatsoever. This can happen even if the Government gets all of its money back with penalties and interest. Improper disclosure of the investigation or other whistleblowers coming forward first are just two of the many issues which can prevent a recovery. There are also risks to one’s professional reputation if the company being investigated seeks to destroy the credibility of the whistleblower in an effort to avoid liability.
Can’t the Whistleblower just go to the affected Government agency and report the fraud?
Yes, but the whistleblower’s rights and the protections of the False Claims Act will probably not be enforced. No money for taking the risk. No protection from retaliation by the employer.