On May 9, 2017, New Jersey Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced two new initiatives, the Anti-Corruption Reward Program and the Anti-Corruption Whistleblower Program, to fight public corruption by incentivizing people with valuable information to come forward to law enforcement.
The Issue the Incentives are Trying to Solve
New Jersey’s anti-corruption laws impose mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment and parole ineligibility for elected officials, government employees, and companies receiving public funds whose illegal behavior somehow relates to their public office or employment. Despite law enforcement’s persistent efforts to prosecute these cases, one of the main challenges they face is securing initial leads that provide the necessary information to form a case around the more dexterous defendants. In an effort to solve this problem, the Attorney General announced two initiatives aimed at gathering more information from the public and less culpable players in a scheme to help prosecute these public corruption cases.
The Anti-Corruption Reward Program
The first initiative, the Anti-Corruption Reward Program, offers up to $25,000 to the public for tips leading to a conviction of a public corruption crime. The funding for the reward is supplied by the Attorney General’s office and comes from criminal forfeiture funds (money derived from crime surrendered to the state). In most cases, only the first person to come forward with unknown information will receive the reward. However, in some cases where two or more people provide different information, the reward may be apportioned. People coming forward with information under this program may not have participated in the crime at issue. Additionally, the reward is not available to government employees who learn of the crime through the course of their employment if they are obligated to report such crimes.
The Anti-Corruption Whistleblowing Program
The second initiative is the Anti-Corruption Whistleblower Program. This program encourages less-culpable persons involved with the crime at issue to report information in an exchange for an agreement with the Attorney General’s office to waive prosecution of the whistleblower. Individuals may choose to report the information anonymously and/or through an attorney to determine whether they are eligible for a waiver. Ultimately, it is the individual’s choice whether or not to proceed. The whistleblower must provide truthful and accurate information and must cooperate with investigators. Corporations may also apply for the program if: (1) the corrupt activity was committed by its employees; (2) the activity was committed without the knowledge, acquiescence, or participation of the high-level employees, officers, directors or shareholders seeking waiver of prosecution; and (3) the corporation took prompt action to terminate the illegal activity and report it to law enforcement. Elected officials, persons who had a controlling role in the scheme, or persons who enlisted others to join the scheme are not eligible to apply for the program. Whistleblowers that are eligible for the program should be cautioned that involvement in the program may result in the loss of their public employment.
For the Record
These new programs offer strong incentives for people to come forward confidentially and help us root out public corruption, whether they’re tipsters from the public seeking a reward, or public workers or others seeking to extricate themselves from a corrupt scheme. By offering the programs for a limited time, we’re looking for swift results, and we will vigorously pursue every lead. -- Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice, New Jersey.
For now, the programs are only in effect until August 1, 2017. While they seem to directly confront the issue of getting necessary information from potentially hesitant sources, it is curious that the Attorney General’s office believes implementing these programs for a total of three months will help achieve this long-term goal. In fact, the limited duration of these programs begs the question: is there particular information the Attorney General’s office is looking for? Regardless, the use of these programs may illustrate whether the incentives are convincing enough to create opportunity for a more durable solution in the future.