A whistleblower is someone who is aware of activities that defraud the United States government or state governments and is willing to bring the individuals or businesses responsible for the wrongdoing to justice. Whistleblowers come from a variety of different industries, including healthcare, pharmaceutical, defense, aerospace and financial, among others.
The government has long valued whistleblowers because they are vital weapons in investigating, prosecuting and deterring fraud and wrongdoing. Whistleblower rewards are a direct reflection of that value. If a qui tam lawsuit results in a successful enforcement action, the whistleblower (or relator) may receive between 10 and 25 percent of any recovered funds.
The whistleblower is nearly always someone with unique information that has not been previously disclosed. Each of the major laws involved in these cases, reference this aspect of whistleblowing in its own way.
Whistleblowing laws make it clear that the government is most interested—and most inclined to reward—whistleblowers who bring cases based on “original information” that would not otherwise have come to the government’s attention. In some cases, a claim may be dismissed if the whistleblower’s allegations were previously disclosed in the news media or as the result of a federal investigation, unless the whistleblower was the original source of those allegations.
Contacting a Whistleblower Attorney
An individual with knowledge of fraud against the government or consumers who is considering taking legal action should contact a law firm that is experienced in the complexities of qui tam law. A number of questions and aspects regarding these laws should be reviewed with an attorney before a whistleblower lawsuit is filed. A short list of questions for a whistleblower attorney to answer might include the following:
- What laws apply to the information that the whistleblower is revealing in his or her allegations? There are four major federal whistleblowing laws (see below) and numerous state laws that might also apply to a particular claim.
- Should the whistleblower tell their employer what they know before they contact the appropriate government agency? The answer to this question might vary depending on the facts of the case and the type of fraud the whistleblower is reporting.
- Which government agency should be contacted and what is the proper way to report what is known? Failing to file a qui tam claim properly can disqualify the whistleblower from possible rewards.
- What is the best way to protect the whistleblower from retaliation by an employer?
- What can whistleblowers do in the process of gathering evidence in their case? What can’t they do?
A competent whistleblower lawyer will be able to answer these questions and chart a course for filing a successful qui tam lawsuit as quickly as possible. Time can be critical to the government accepting and intervening in a claim, and can also have an impact on any reward.
If someone else has already filed a claim based on similar information, or if the government has already begun an investigation, the whistleblower’s right to pursue the case may be denied. Different state and federal laws also have varying statutes of limitation—deadlines for filing and reporting—that must be met. If a deadline is missed, the right to take legal action may be lost.
Whistleblowers who desire to remain anonymous during the whistleblowing process will also benefit from legal counsel, and filing an anonymous claim may require being represented by a whistleblower lawyer. Although anonymity cannot be guaranteed in some cases, the identity of the relator will generally remain undisclosed while a government investigation is ongoing.
Federal Whistleblower Laws
There are four major laws that are employed to address fraud against the government:
- The False Claims Act (FCA) covers federal spending, contracting and procurement. Fraud involving healthcare (including Medicare and Medicaid, hospice care, and the pharmaceutical industry), defense contracting and aerospace, and the housing and mortgage industry, fall under the FCA. The FCA allows private citizens to file a whistleblower lawsuit on behalf of the government and to potentially receive a significant reward based on a percentage of any money recovered in a successful enforcement action.
- The Internal Revenue Code contains whistleblower provisions that were strengthened with the passage of the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006. Whistleblowers who report information on significant underpayment of taxes or tax fraud by corporations or individuals will be covered by this law and may be eligible to receive a reward for bringing allegations to the government’s attention.
- Fraud related to stocks, securities, or commodities is covered under the Securities Exchange Act and the Commodity Exchange Act. Both Acts were amended by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 to add significant whistleblower provisions, including protections and the possibility of substantial rewards.
For more information on each of these laws and how they might apply to your case, please see our How to Blow the Whistle page or contact us to speak with an experienced qui tam attorney.