They live in a secret world, risking their careers and reputations to expose corporate fraud—and sometimes make tens of millions of dollars.
Wall Street is suddenly paying attention because the new Dodd-Frank financial reform law extends whistleblower provisions to Wall Street for the first time. That means employees who expose fraud and wrongdoing stand to collect 10 to 30 percent of the amount recovered by the government.
Some of these whistleblowers have already made millions, others have ended up in prison, but all have unique perspectives on the risks and rewards of turning in big companies. Here are some of the most interesting whistleblowers, in their own words, from interviews with CNBC.
By Eamon Javers
Posted 8 Feb 2011
"The average American is carrying the weight for all these millionaires and billionaires. That’s the fact. That’s the truth. And until someone does something about it, it’s never gonna be cleaned up."
Bradley Birkenfeld was a secret Swiss banker at UBS in Geneva who delivered some of the world’s best-kept financial secrets to the US Government. However, despite revealing the information, he was convicted for holding crucial information from the government - conspiracy to commit tax fraud - and is now serving a 40 month prison sentence.
"It was a passion. It was the mission. It was an obsession. I couldn't sleep at night."
Tom Cantor was awarded $42 million in a whistleblower case against QuestDiagnostics. Experts say that many whistleblowers have similar traits, Cantor’s being his religion, which gave him an identity outside his job and a strong moral compass.
"It's very difficult. It was very hard. I mean, we survived it financially, we survived it emotionally, but it was a struggle."
Eckhard was awarded $96 million in a settlement with GlaxoSmithKline in 2010, and like Tom Cantor, she also saw her faith as a big motivator in her decision. After discovering a manufacturing problem in one of the company’s plants, she tried to warn her superiors but eventually took her claim to the government after she was released from her job, which resulted in a $750 million settlement.
"Here's my first rodeo in the world of being a confidential informant, and I was ready to really go I Spy."
As a prop trader in Minnesota, Schlobohm was pitched an idea he thought was a Ponzi scheme, but knew that "they were 100 percent total fraud." He spent considerable time working with the FBI and eventually helped get a 25-year conviction. However, he has never been compensated for his work, which included wearing wires and gathering information.
"I didn’t know that people treated the federal treasury as a cookie jar that they could raid. And that Wall Street would create an entire business premised upon essentially taking money from the public."
Although his lawyer will only allow him to be known as Mr. ABC, this whistleblower keeps his anonymity to maintain a Wall Street career. However, he’s spent 12 years helping the IRS but hasn’t found significant financial gain for his activities.
"All we know right now is that Wall Street is terrified."
Patrick Burns a spokesman for the non profit group Taxpayers Against Fraud, gives insight into Ven-a-Care, which makes a business out of whistleblowing. They’ve been involved in numerous multi-million dollar settlements, which have made the owners rich and won big settlements for US taxpayers. Ven-a-Care focuses primarily on pharmaceutical companies and estimates another $1 billion in settlements before their cases are finished.
"If you're a Wall Street CEO in a company that's committing Securities fraud, you should be terrified of this. Because every single person in your organization is now potentially an informant to the S.E.C."
Eric Havian is a lawyer who represents whistleblowers, he thinks that the whistleblower rules created last year put companies on the hook and says that big companies really have no valid argument against strong whistleblower laws and incentives.