Famous SEC Whistleblower Cases

ImageThe SEC is authorized by Congress to pay monetary awards to individuals who bring forward information which results in enforcement action that results in over $1 million in sanctions. The award can be between 10 and 30% of the amount collected. Assistance from these whistleblowers helps the SEC identify possible fraud and other illegal actions earlier than would have been possible otherwise. 

First Award Presented
On August 21, 2012 the SEC announced its first award under the whistleblower program. Neither the recipient of the award nor the case was identified to the public. It was announced, however, that the award amount was $50 thousand. 

The Case against WorldCom
In 2000 WorldCom was forced by the US Justice Department to abandon its planned merger with Sprint. The company was not able to continue on its aggressive growth path. WorldCom’s stock price was falling and the banks were demanding that margin calls be covered by CEO Bernard Ebbers. Loans from the company provided a short-term solution, and in 2002 Ebbers resigned as CEO. Following Ebbers’ resignation, a team of internal auditors, led by Cynthia Cooper, then Vice-President of Internal Audit, worked secretly and often at night to uncover $3.8 billion worth of fraud. The fraud had begun in 1999 and continued until mid-2002. Ebbers, along with two other company executives had been understating expenses by reporting them as capital and overstating revenue with false accounting entries. The SEC began its SEC investigation later in 2002. The SEC did not have the awards program in place at the time, but Cynthia Cooper shared the Time Magazine Person of the Year recognition in 2002.

The Case against Enron
Cynthia Cooper shared the Time Magazine cover with Sherron Watkins who, in 2001, was Vice President of Corporate Development at Enron Corporation. Watkins is recognized as the whistleblower who called attention to Enron’s fraudulent misrepresentation of its books by CEO Kenneth Lay and Finance CEO Jeff Skilling. The company had a history of overstating profits and assets and reporting losses and expenses in off-the-books foreign entities. The SEC initiated a formal investigation into Enron in November, 2001.

Whistleblowers, along with SEC whistleblower lawyers and the SEC, play an important role in regulating equity trading activity and company reporting. 

 

Advertisements

Famous Corporate Whistleblowers

Corporate whistleblowers have been helping to combat fraud, unethical practices and dangerous business behaviors for decades. The government has even enacted laws that protect whistleblowers from retaliation by companies after revealing criminal or unethical activities. Recent scandals involving some of the largest companies in the country have made three of these corporate whistleblowers famous.

Sherron WatkinsImageSherron Watkins could not have predicted what would happen when she was first hired by Enron in 1993. Watkins was the vice president of corporate development in 2001. Watkins had discovered an extensive and complex series of false companies and bookkeeping tricks that were used to hide losses and to artificially inflate the price of Enron stock. After she informed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Kenneth Lay about the irregularities, Watkins found her office had been searched and her computers removed.

Watkins testified with a corporate whistleblower lawyer in front of the United States House of Representatives in 2002. Her testimony lead to the downfall of Enron and revealed the criminal behavior of the corporation. She was awarded the 2002 Person of the Year award by Time magazine for her part in exposing corporate corruption.

ImageJeffrey Wigand

Jeffrey Wigand is a scientist, researcher and biochemist who started working for Brown and Williamson in 1989. Brown and Williamson produced a wide range of cigarette and tobacco products. Wigand was the vice president of research and development for the company. He eventually helped to work on new additives for the cigarette products. He discovered that the company was using carcinogenic substances in order to increase the impact of the tobacco.

Wigand started to receive death threats and underwent a massive smear campaign from Brown and Williamson when he gave an interview to television news show 60 Minutes. The information Wigand provided as a whistleblower resulted in more scrutiny of the tobacco industry and many state lawsuits that won $368 billion in settlements against the company. He was played by Russell Crowe in a movie about the whistleblowing incident.

Harry Markopolos

ImageHarry Markopolos spent eight years between 2000 and 2008 providing information to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) about the fraud at Madoff Securities. Markopolos first realized that Bernard Madoff was running an unsustainable Ponzi scheme when he saw impossible returns on investments each year. Unfortunately, the SEC took no action for eight years despite all of the warnings and hard information that Markopolos provided as a whistleblower.

Markopolos eventually provided testimony in front of several congressional panels with the help of a corporate whistleblower lawyer. He provided information that revealed a $65 billion fraud through the securities company. Markopolos helped to convict Madoff and helped to shine light on the inaction of the SEC and corporate culture in this case.

Two Industries Publicists Need to Know

The role of the publicist Imageis no longer to gain individuals the glamour and recognition that they seek.  This role has spread far beyond movie stars and reputation management.  Publicists main role is to be a promoter of corporations.  There are two continuously growing fields in which a good publicist can find their niche.

Technology

With the growth of start-ups and technology conglomerates on the global level, a good publicist can make the difference between a company going under and a company finding the client base that they so need, ultimately leading to success.  Good publicists can be hard to find.  Not only do they need a skills in PR, but they also need a knowledge base in the field and a good understanding of the technology, the competition and all of the surrounding factors.  Technology PR firms like cutlergrp.com have the opportunity to gain a deep understanding of technology, the filed and the products and substantially help those companies in need of help. 

Environment

Along with a stronger awareness of the pollutants which are harming out environment, there has been the advent of technologies and innovative ideas to care for the environment.  For example, recently, an Israeli firm created a technology to undo the damage of pesticides.  Publicists in this field need to have a strong knowledge of technologies, environmental issues and politics which surround the targeted issue.  These publicists must carefully evaluate how to help these ideas gain traction, while also being exceptionally careful of which words they use for their campaigns.  Using the wrong terminology may not only not attract potential clients, but may actually penalize a firm from gaining future clients and government funding and grants. 

Overall, these up and coming fields provide a fertile ground for publicists who want to have a lasting impact on the global economy.

My disclaimer

Though I try hard to write quality articles and research, I’m not an academic so all I can use is personal experience and the internet for information. I hope you get something valuable out of this. Looking forward to connecting with my readers and getting their personal experience feedback as well.