News from the world of whistleblower awards: the Commodities & Futures Trading Commission awarded a $1.5 million “enhanced award” to some lucky person on Monday, because that whistleblower first tried to report his or her concerns internally.
As always with whistleblower awards, we don’t know too many facts in the case. But Christopher Ehrman, head of the CFTC’s Whistleblower Office, said in a statement: “While there is no requirement that a whistleblower report internally before approaching the commission, today’s award demonstrates that the commission may pay enhanced awards to those who do — that is one of the positive factors set out in our rules for the Commission to consider in making its award determination.”
The CFTC award order only says the whistleblower “attempted to report his or her concerns internally,” and we don’t know what that actually means: whether the person submitted a report via some whistleblower hotline, or called the chief compliance officer directly, or simply raised his concern with a direct supervisor. We also don’t know whether the firm responded to the whistleblower at all, or simply ignored him. We don’t even know whether the firm in question had a chief compliance officer.
We do know the information from the tipster was good. “The information provided by Claimant 1 was directly incorporated into strategy involving witness interviews,” the CFTC order said, “and his or her early assistance saved the commission resources through his or her explanation of a complex scheme.” That sounds like a senior-level employee to me, or perhaps someone in finance or some other risk assurance function who knew a scam when he or she saw it.
Whatever the misconduct was, the CFTC said the issue also involved another federal regulator, and the whistleblower’s information helped that regulator to reach some enforcement deal, too.
And we can deduce that if the award was $1.5 million, the settlement in question was between $5 million and $15 million — since whistleblower awards are only 10 to 30 percent of whatever final settlement is reached. The CFTC did say that the whistleblower’s attempt first to report internally “weighs in favor of a high-percentage award.”
Ultimately, however, compliance officers should focus on the point most relevant to you: the CFTC is trying to help you. It sent a message today to would-be whistleblowers that they should at least try to work with you first, and they might reap larger financial awards later for doing so. It also sent a secondary message to the corporate defense bar that ignoring internal reports can lead to more expensive consequences later.
Every step forward in whistleblower protection counts. This is one of those steps.