Tipping the Scales: Whistleblower Awarded $3.5 Million For Information That Advanced SEC Investigation

Last Friday, the SEC announced a whistleblower award of more than $3.5 million to an employee whose tip advanced an SEC investigation into the whistleblower’s company.  According to the Order, while the information the whistleblower provided did not cause the SEC to open a new line of inquiry, the information “significantly contributed” to the SEC’s ongoing investigation by focusing the Commission on a particular issue and providing the agency with additional settlement leverage during its negotiations with the company.

Notably, the SEC first denied the whistleblower’s award claim because the information did not lead to the settlement of the action.  However, the SEC then reconsidered after receiving a letter from the claimant’s attorney and reviewing additional documentation from enforcement staff.  In deciding on the $3.5 million bounty, the SEC also considered certain undue hardships suffered by the claimant, such as the claimant’s inability to find employment after reporting the misconduct.

The award illustrates the principle that whistleblowers may receive an award not only when their tip initiates an investigation, but when they provide new information that advances an existing inquiry as well.  In fact, as part of its press release, the SEC encouraged potential whistleblowers “to come forward and report allegations of potential securities laws violations even if they think the SEC may already be looking into it.”

The SEC’s whistleblower program has now awarded more than $62 million to 28 whistleblowers since the program’s inception in 2011.