After a nearly three-month dry period for whistleblower bounties, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this week awarded a pair of tipsters who helped the agency bring successful enforcement actions.
On Thursday, two days after awarding nearly $2.5 million to an employee of an unspecified government agency—the first-ever of such an award—the SEC approved a more than $1.7 million bounty for a corporate insider who helped the agency stop a fraud that otherwise would have been difficult to detect.
‘When whistleblowers tip the SEC, it not only can bring wrongdoers to justice but also a relief to investors,” said Jane Norberg, chief of the SEC’s whistleblower office. ”This whistleblower’s valuable information enabled us to stop further investor harm and ultimately return money to victims.”
To approve the latest award, the SEC made an exception that it has used at least once before to reward a tipster who began working with the agency before the 2010 passage of Dodd-Frank, which created the agency’s whistleblower program.
The recipient of Thursday’s award had initially contacted the SEC before Dodd-Frank—a cutoff that has cost other tipsters the chance to receive big bounties. But the corporate insider continued to provide useful information after the law’s passage.
There was one problem: the information submitted after Dodd-Frank was not “in writing,” a requirement in the year between law’s passage and the August 2011 effective date of SEC rules mandating that tips be mailed, faxed or filed through the agency’s website.
Instead, according to the SEC order approving the award, the whistleblower “provided the new post-Dodd-Frank Act information in the format the enforcement staff requested.” The SEC cited that factor in the “unusual circumstances” identified in the agency’s order, which was redacted to conceal the whistleblower’s identity and did not specify the enforcement staff’s requested format.
The SEC in January made a similar exception to award more than $5.5 million to another whistleblower. The whistleblower, in that case, had also begun working with the SEC before Dodd-Frank, then continued assisting the agency after the law’s passage. The information that the tipster provided after Dodd Frank was not provided in writing— “an omission which might normally require an award denial,” the SEC said.
In both cases the SEC found the whistleblower qualified for a bounty nonetheless because the information was submitted “in the format that the enforcement staff expressly requested.”
Thursday’s award puts the total SEC whistleblower compensation, since the program started, at $158 million. Forty-six whistleblowers have been paid between 10 and 30 percent of monetary sanctions that exceed $1 million.
In determining the percentage for Thursday’s award recipient, the SEC noted the whistleblower “bears some, albeit limited, culpability” for the fraud. The agency does not identify what percentage any whistleblower receives.
On Tuesday, the SEC approved an award despite the whistleblower’s employment at a government agency that has a law enforcement component.
SEC rules bar government employees from receiving awards if they work at a financial regulator or a law enforcement agency. Because the whistleblower did not work in the law enforcement section of the government agency at issue, the SEC said, “neither of the two exceptions prevents an award here.”