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Ex-SEC Whistleblower Chief McKessy Lands at Law Firm Phillips & Cohen

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Sean McKessy, the former head of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of the Whistleblower, has joined the whistleblower law firm Phillips & Cohen LLP as a partner in its Washington office.

McKessy, who left his post as first chief of the SEC’s whistleblower office in July, “played a pivotal role in transforming the SEC’s culture into one that enthusiastically welcomes whistleblowers and appreciates their critical role in advancing the SEC’s enforcement agenda,” said Erika Kelton, a partner and whistleblower attorney at Phillips & Cohen, in a statement.

“No one knows or understands the SEC whistleblower program better than Sean McKessy,” she said.

McKessy noted in the statement that Phillips & Cohen “has a well-deserved, international reputation as a top whistleblower law firm.” He said he is “looking forward to working with this impressive group of lawyers and contributing to the success of our whistleblower clients.”

During his five years heading the Office of the Whistleblower, the SEC approved awards totaling nearly $100 million to 33 individuals — a record-setting pace for government whistleblower payouts.

The latest whistleblower award of more than $22 million — the second-highest amount the SEC has paid — was doled out in late August.

“I am extremely proud of the work accomplished by the whistleblower office team during my time as chief,” McKessy said. “I think my experience and knowledge will help whistleblowers work in the most effective way with the SEC to stop securities law violations.”

McKessy played a key role in the SEC’s use of the Dodd-Frank Act’s anti-retaliation provisions to protect whistleblowers and punish employers that discouraged employees from reporting wrongdoing to the SEC. 

McKessy is also credited with encouraging whistleblowers in other countries who knew of violations of the U.S. anti-bribery law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other securities violations to come forward.

The SEC awarded him its Law and Policy Award in 2011.

McKessy previously spent 10 years working on internal compliance and SEC reporting matters for Caterpillar Inc., Altria Group, Inc. and AOL. Prior to that, he served as a senior counsel in the SEC’s Enforcement Division for three years.

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