In a clear sign of the increased awareness – and effectiveness – of the SEC’s whistleblower program, the SEC awarded five whistleblowers a total of over $26 million for their assistance in four separate enforcement actions between May 13 and June 9.
- May 13, 2016: the SEC awarded $3.5 million to a whistleblower who provided useful information in an ongoing investigation. Notably, the information the whistleblower provided did not cause the Commission to open a new line of inquiry; rather, the information “significantly contributed” to the ongoing investigation by focusing the Commission on a particular issue and providing additional settlement leverage during its negotiations with the company.
- May 17, 2016: the Commission announced an award of $5-$6 million (its third highest in history) to a “former company insider” who provided a detailed tip which, according to the Commission, “led the agency to uncover securities violations that would have been nearly impossible for it to detect but for the whistleblower’s information.”
- May 20, 2016: the Commission jointly awarded more than $450,000 to two individuals for a tip that led to the opening of a corporate accounting investigation and for their assistance as the investigation proceeded.
- June 9, 2016: the SEC awarded $17 million – the second largest award in the history of the whistleblower program – to a “former company employee” who provided a tip which, according to the SEC, “substantially advanced the agency’s investigation and ultimate enforcement action.”
Andrew Ceresney, Director of Enforcement for the SEC stated that when employees – who are often well-positioned to identify wrongdoing – “report specific and credible tips to us, [the SEC] will leverage that inside knowledge to advance [its] enforcement of the securities laws and better protect investors and the marketplace.”
These awards reaffirm the SEC’s intent to encourage whistleblowers to come forward and provide useful information – and show that the program is gaining momentum. The SEC’s whistleblower program has now awarded more than $85 million to 32 whistleblowers since the program’s inception in 2011 as part of Dodd-Frank. Whistleblowers may be eligible for such an award when they voluntarily provide the SEC with unique and useful information that leads to a successful enforcement action. These awards can range from 10% to 30% of the money collected when the monetary sanctions exceed $1 million. Payments are made out of an investor protection fund established by Congress that is financed through monetary sanctions paid to the SEC as a result of securities law violations.