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SEC Whistleblower Office Sees Jump in Tips in 2018

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The Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of the Whistleblower told Congress on Thursday that it received 5,282 tips in 2018, an 18% jump from tips received in FY 2017, and the highest increase — nearly 76% percent — since the program started in FY 2012.

In its 40-page annual report to Congress, the agency’s whistleblower office said that it paid awards totaling $168 million to 13 individuals in FY 2018, which compares to awards of nearly $50 million to 12 whistleblowers in 2017.

The awards in 2018 included the largest SEC whistleblower awards so far: $50 million to two whistleblowers who filed a whistleblower complaint jointly, and individual awards of $39 million and $33 million.

(Related: IRS Hands Out $13.6M Whistleblower Award)

“The increasing number of whistleblowers and awards shows that the SEC whistleblower program continues to be very strong,” said Sean McKessy, the former head of the whistleblower office who’s now a partner at Phillips & Cohen, in a statement. “Many, if not most, of the SEC’s investigations in recent years have been launched as a result of detailed information provided by whistleblowers.”

Erika Kelton, a Phillips & Cohen partner, added that “whistleblowers should be encouraged by the SEC’s willingness to pay sizeable awards when their information and assistance help stop major securities violations and result in large monetary sanctions.” Kelton has secured SEC whistleblower awards for three clients.

The law firm notes that before this year, the largest SEC award was $30 million (later increased to $32 million), which went to an international whistleblower represented by Kelton.

Overall, the SEC has awarded $326 million to 59 individuals since the SEC whistleblower office opened in 2011.

Kelton noted that the Supreme Court decision earlier this year in the Digital Realty case “created a race to the SEC for whistleblowers, causing the number of whistleblowers to jump.”

The SEC had taken the position “that employees who raised concerns about possible SEC violations within their companies were protected as whistleblowers under the Dodd-Frank Act, whether they had filed whistleblower claims with the SEC or not,” McKessy explained.

“In the Digital Realty case, the Supreme Court rejected the SEC’s interpretation of the law and ruled that the law protects only those employees who are fired or suffer job retaliation after they file whistleblower claims with the SEC,” he said.

The ruling “has compelled employees who suspect SEC violations by their companies to go to the SEC first before expressing any concerns to their supervisors or internal compliance systems, so to protect themselves,” Kelton added.

The SEC is mulling comments that came in regarding changes the agency proposed to its whistleblower program. The comment period ended in mid-September.

(Related: IRS Hands Out $13.6M Whistleblower Award)


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