Articles Posted in Whistleblowers

In the third highest award that the Securities and Exchange Commission has issued under its whistleblower program, the regulator is giving one individual $3 million for providing information that helped expose a complex fraud. The tip provided by the whistleblower included details and specifics about the scam, which would have been difficult to detect otherwise. Related actions also resulted because of the information this person provided.

Since inception four years ago, the SEC whistleblower program has paid out over $50 million to 18 whistleblower. The biggest award to date was $30 million, issued last year. A $14 million whistleblower award was issued in 2013.

Under the program, whistleblowers that provide the regulator with original information that helps the SEC pursue a successful enforcement action are eligible for 10-30% of the money collected if the sanction exceeds $1 million. The SEC is legally bound to protect the confidentiality and identity of whistleblowers.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission will award a whistleblower more than $600,000 for providing original information that resulted in a successful enforcement action. That’s 30% of the total monies collected related to the case,

In the Matter of Paradigm Capital Management, Inc. and Candace King Weir. It’s also the maximum percentage of funds that a whistleblower can get in in such an action.

The Commission charged Paradigm with taking retaliatory action against the whistleblower for reporting the possible misconduct. Retaliatory actions included removing the person from their position and changing their job duties, making the individual investigate the wrongdoing that was alleged, and other acts that caused the whistleblower to feel marginalized.

The SEC has brought its first case for whistleblower protection violations involving Rule 21F-17. The Commission claims that KBR Inc. used language in confidentiality agreements that were improperly restrictive and could potentially impede the whistleblower process.

According to the regulator, KBR required that witnesses involved in certain internal investigative interviews sign confidentiality statements that contained language warning about potentially disciplinary action, including termination, if the matters involved were discussed with an external party without the legal department’s approval. Such probes typically involved claims of possible securities law violations. Because of this, the agency said the terms violated the rule, which bars companies from getting in the way of whistleblowers being able to report securities law violations to the Commission.

To settle, KBR will pay a $130,000 penalty. The company, however, is not denying or admitting to the charges. It did voluntarily consented to modify its confidentiality statement to include language that lets employees know they can report possible violations to federal agencies without the company’s approval or fear of reprisal. KBR also agreed to cease and desist from future Rule 21F-17 violations.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is looking at whether companies are stifling corporate whistleblowers. The regulator has submitted letters to companies to request a number of documents, including employment contracts, nondisclosure agreements, confidentiality deals, and settlement agreements entered into since the Dodd-Frank Act became law. SEC officials are worried that there has been a backlash against whistleblowers.

Some of the documents come with clauses that get in the way of an employee notifying the government about wrongdoing at the company, as well as about other securities law violations. Firms may even demand that employees give up their rights to benefits from government investigations, which takes away the incentive that is provided by the SEC whistleblower program.

Under the SEC whistleblower program, tipsters may be entitled to receive 10-30% of penalties collected if the information provided results in an enforcement action that brings in sanctions of over $1 million. In 2014, the regulator looked at over 3,600 tips about possible securities law violations. The number of tips has gone up in recent years. The Dodd-Frank Act bars companies from getting in the way of employees submitting such tips.

Edward O’Donnell, an ex-Countrywide Financial executive, will receive $57 million for a second whistleblower lawsuit accusing parent company Bank of America Corp. (BAC) of fraud. In this case, O’Donnell accused a Countrywide unit of bilking Freddie Mac (FMCC) and Fannie Mae (FNMA) through the sale of home loans. Bank of America consented to settle the case for $350 million as part of a wider $17 billion deal to settle mortgage fraud claims.

For filing his whistleblower lawsuit, O’Donnell’s share is 16% of the recovery plus another $1.6 million. His award comes from the part of the settlement that the bank reached with federal prosecutors and the states of Illinois, New York, California, Maryland, Delaware, and Kentucky.

He has yet to collect money from the other case, in which a jury found Bank of America liable for shoddy mortgage sales. That lawsuit revolved around the “hustle,” which was a program that rewarded employees for producing loans even if their quality was poor.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s 2014 Annual Report to Congress on the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program, the regulator issued nine whistleblower awards, including one $30 million award issued to one whistleblower.

The report states that over 40% of those who received awards were either former or present employees of the companies on which they reported. 80% of these whistleblowers tried to bring up the issues to the companies first before going to the regulator. They only approached the regulator after an employer did not act to rectify the misconduct. Whistleblower award recipients also included fraud victims, individuals with personal ties to the fraudsters, consultants, and contractors.

The SEC also noted that it brought its first enforcement action against an employer that retaliated against a whistleblower. The Dodd-Frank Act has an anti-retaliation program that is supposed to protect individuals who bring a whistleblower claim. In that action, Paradigm Capital Management got into trouble for retaliating against a trader who told the SEC that the firm had taken part in allegedly unlawful transactions. Paradigm was ordered by the SEC to pay $2.2 million to resolve the employee’s retaliation claim.

According to Alayne Fleischmann, the whistleblower who gave the evidence which helped resident in a $13 billion mortgage settlement from JPMorgan Chase(JPM) to the U.S. Department of Justice last year, that amount was not enough. Fleischmann, a lawyer, joined the financial firm as a deal manager in 2006.

She says that not long after she started working there she noticed that about half of the loans in a multimillion-loan pool included overstated incomes. Such loans, she said, were likely at risk for default—a precarious position for both the investors and the securities. Fleischmann said that she notified management about how the bank was re-selling subprime mortgages to customers without letting them know about the risks. She also spoke about how one bank manager wanted to put in place a non-email policy so there would be no paper trail to show that the firm was aware that such activities were happening.

It was the sale of toxic sub-prime loans by JPMorgan and other US banks that incited the US housing market crisis, which eventually spurred the global financial meltdown of 2008. Repackaged loans were sold to pension funds and other institutional investors, with many buyers unaware of the high default risks involved.

Whistleblower to Get Over $30M Award in SEC Case

In its largest whistleblower award yet, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will pay a bounty of over $30 million to an informant. Seeing that a whistleblower may be entitled to 10-30% of the amount recovered under the Dodd-Frank program, if the quality, unique information the person provided led to an enforcement action resulting in sanctions of over $1 million, a huge sum was obviously recovered.

In this particular case, the whistleblower resides abroad. Andrew Ceresney, SEC Enforcement Division Director, said that the individual brought the agency information about a fraud that otherwise would have been very hard to detect. He stated that whistleblowers anywhere in the world should see this latest award as incentive to report possible violations involving U.S. securities fraud.

SEC Wants To Extend Temporary Rule Letting Dually-Registered Advisers Get Principal Trading Consent

For the third time in four years, The Securities and Exchange Commission wants to extend a temporary rule that makes it easier for investment advisers that are also registered as brokers to sell from the proprietary accounts of their firms. The regulator issued for comment its proposal that would move the interim’s rule expiration date to the end of 2016 instead of the end of 2014.

Under the temporary rule, dually registered advisers can either get verbal consent for principal trades on a transaction basis or give written prospective disclosure and authorization, in addition to yearly reports to the clients. With principal trades, a brokerage firm uses its own securities in the transaction.

Candace King Weir and her hedge fund advisory firm Paradigm Capital Management will pay $2.2M to resolve Securities and Exchange Commission charges accusing the firm of executing prohibited principal transactions and acting against the whistleblower employee who notified the regulator about the conflicted activity. Weir is charged with causing the principal transactions to happen.

The agency contends that Weir facilitated the transactions between her firm and C.L. King & Associates, a brokerage firm that she also own, while trading for the hedge fund PCM Partners L.P. II. This type of transaction presents a conflict of interest between the client and adviser, and the latter is supposed to disclose that they are involved on both sides of the trade. The adviser also needs to get the client’s permission for this.

According to the Commission’s order, Paradigm did not give written disclosure to the hedge fund or obtain its consent. Paradigm’s head trader then reported the trading conduct.

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