In the past week, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission announced the first two awards it has granted to whistleblowers under the Trump administration.
On April 25, 2017, the SEC announced an award of nearly $4 million to a whistleblower for providing detailed and specific information relating to alleged violations that led the SEC to open an investigation. In addition to providing an initial report, the Claims Review Staff noted that the whistleblower provided “extensive useful ongoing assistance” including “industry-specific knowledge and expertise” during the course of the SEC’s investigation. In recognizing the value to the SEC of the information provided by the whistleblower, Jane Norberg, Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, stated that “whistleblowers with specialized experience or expertise can help us expend fewer resources in our investigations and bring enforcement actions more efficiently.”
On May 2, 2017, the SEC announced an award of more than $500,000 to a company insider for reporting information that led to an investigation and subsequent recovery. “This company employee saw something wrong and did the right thing by reporting what turned out to be hard-to-detect violations of the securities laws,” said Ms. Norberg, who noted that company insiders often have access to information otherwise unavailable to the SEC and encouraged company insiders to bring information to the SEC.
Under the SEC’s Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program, eligible whistleblowers may receive awards of between 10% and 30% of the sanctions collected in actions brought by the SEC and related actions brought by other authorities. To maintain the confidentiality of the individual whistleblower (required under the Dodd-Frank Act), the SEC did not release information regarding the organizations involved, nor did the SEC release the percentages of awards granted to the whistleblowers.
As we explained in our alert about the SEC’s 2016 Annual Report to Congress, we expect that whistleblowers will continue to submit complaints to the SEC at an ever-increasing rate. It remains vital for companies to ensure that they have vigorous compliance programs in place to prevent and detect potential securities violations. While it remains to be seen to what extent the new administration may shift the focus of the SEC and/or work to amend the Whistleblower Program under the Dodd-Frank Act either in law or practice, these awards suggest that the SEC will continue to publicize large monetary awards to encourage whistleblowers to provide evidence of larger-scale issues. Companies should consider incentivizing employees to report through internal channels, and must respond immediately to such reports to mitigate penalties that may result from any violations.