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Religion, Not Money, Often Motivates Corporate Whistleblowers

As we worked on this series of reports, we were surprised by the similarities in the people who become whistleblowers.

Paul Burns | Lifesize | Getty Images

The experts say they see similar categories of people again and again. And though they’re quick to point out that anyone can become a whistleblower, certain traits stand out.

For one, whistleblowers can be deeply religious people, whose faith gives them an identity outside their corporate life.

Tom Cantor, who won $42 million in a whistleblower case against Quest Diagnostics , says he couldn't have done it without his religion. "Five years in a court was a really, really tough time,” he told me. “I had a bible verse in my hand. I read it every day: 'No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper'."

Cheryl Eckard, the whistleblower who won $96 million in a settlement with GlaxoSmithKline last fall, told me she couldn’t have done it without her religion. “I can't imagine that a Christian would blow the whistle before another religion would,” she said.

“But you certainly—it helps to have faith, you know, in something. You have to believe in something. And for me, my faith in God carried me through this. I prayed my way through it.”

The key, say the lawyers, is that religious people have an anchor to their personal identity that isn’t caught up in their place in the corporate ladder. That independent identity doesn’t always have to come from religion. The whistleblower we identify as Mr. ABC, for example, told me his motivation came from having served in the military when he was younger.

“I guess I was too idealistic in having served in the Army after college, I was much more idealistic in general about how people approached the tax code,” he told me. “I didn’t know that compliance was optional.”

Whistleblowers are often upper middle managers—senior enough to know what's going on, but not the very top people in a company. And Wall Street's whistleblowers will likely come from the ranks of folks who deal with a company's most sensitive secrets.

"They're the people who are responsible for putting together the SEC reporting,” said Eric Havian, a lawyer who represents whistleblowers. “The people who are responsible for monitoring to make sure there is no foreign bribery going on. The people who are responsible to make sure there's no money laundering, or that you're not lying to the shareholders, you're not lying to the regulators.”

The experts also say that whistleblowers tend to be the very best performers in an organization, not the slackers. They're the people inside a company who are confident they’ll be taken seriously when they come forward.

That's why the SEC says it is already seeing a significant increase in quality tips. “This information will typically be provided by someone who's close to the center, close to the heartland of the misconduct,” said SEC enforcement director Robert Khuzami.


Watch the final reports from Eamon Javers' special series, "Bounty Hunters," Friday, February 11 on "Squawk Box" and "Squawk On The Street."