Yesterday, the SEC issued a stunning $17 million award to a former employee, whose “detailed tip” provided original information to SEC enforcement staff that “substantially advanced their investigation” into the whistleblower’s former employer. The SEC specifically credited the “company insider” with allowing enforcement staff “to conserve time and resources in the investigation, and help[ing] staff to gather evidence supporting the [SEC’s] charges.” Four other claimants who sought awards in conjunction with the same enforcement action saw their claims denied for failing to meet the standard of “voluntarily provid[ing] the Commission with original information that leads to” successful enforcement.
Given the significant protections afforded to whistleblowers, no other details of the incident were released. For example, the terms of the award did not indicate whether the former employee made any effort to raise his or her concerns internally prior to becoming involved with the SEC. Although the award is non-precedential because “whether original information leads to successful enforcement depends on an analysis of the facts and circumstances of each individual case,” its significance is hard to ignore.
The $17 million award—the second largest in the history of the SEC whistleblower program behind a $30 million award in 2014—represents an unspecified percentage of the total monetary sanctions to be collected as a result of the enforcement action. The SEC’s announcement also revealed that, since the whistleblower program’s inception in 2011, the agency has awarded more than $85 million to 32 whistleblowers. Such a significant award will only elevate further the profile of the SEC’s whistleblower program, and underscore the agency’s commitment to employ substantial incentives to induce current and/or former employees to report alleged employer misconduct.