Attorney Harrison Oldham
On May 5, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) made history by awarding its largest-ever single whistleblower payout of $279 million. This substantial award surpasses the combined annual rewards given to whistleblowers in any year except for 2021. While specific details about the case remain undisclosed, the magnitude of the award suggests that it relates to one of the SEC’s most significant enforcement actions.
According to the SEC order, which is heavily redacted, the whistleblower provided “significant” information through various means such as written submissions, communications, and interviews. The information pertained to a “covered action” and two “related actions.”
The whistleblower’s assistance, which involved multiple interviews and written submissions, proved instrumental in achieving favorable outcomes in these cases. Creola Kelly, the chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, acknowledged the crucial role played by the whistleblower in the success of the SEC’s actions. It is worth noting that the whistleblower’s report did not initiate the SEC’s investigation; instead, the agency was aware of potential misconduct and had started the investigation before receiving the whistleblower’s input. Nevertheless, the provided information was crucial in expanding the investigation and saving the SEC substantial time and resources.
With this latest award, the SEC has now granted over $430 million to whistleblowers this year, putting it on track to surpass the previous record of $564 million awarded in 2021. Whistleblower payments are funded through an investor protection fund created by Congress, which is financed by monetary sanctions paid to the SEC. The amount awarded to whistleblowers can vary between 10% and 30% of the funds collected, provided that the monetary sanctions exceed $1 million.
Interestingly, the number of claimants receiving awards is projected to decrease by more than 20% compared to the past two years. This indicates that while the SEC is awarding larger sums, it is doing so to fewer individuals. This trend underscores the importance of whistleblowers in the SEC’s most significant cases, not only for alerting the agency to potential misconduct but also for guiding the SEC staff throughout ongoing investigations.
The substantial size of this award is likely to incentivize more individuals to come forward as whistleblowers, a development that the SEC undoubtedly encourages. However, considering the SEC and Department of Justice’s emphasis on swift self-reporting by companies to receive cooperation credit, it is in the best interest of organizations to establish policies and procedures that encourage employees first to report concerns internally. Although the list of policies and practices is varied, it should include:
Fostering a culture of ethical conduct from top management.
Implementing robust systems for confidential reporting.
Promptly addressing and resolving complaints.
Demonstrating a firm stance against retaliation towards whistleblowers.
With work and proper implementation, this approach allows companies to thoroughly investigate and address any issues and potentially self-report any improprieties.
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About Harrison Oldham
Harrison grew up in Mansfield, Texas. He attended Texas A&M University for his bachelor’s degree, where he met his wonderful wife, Kelsey. After graduating magna cum laude from Texas A&M, he attended SMU Dedman School of Law, graduating with honors in 2012. Today, Harrison and his wife live in Dallas, Texas with their son, Teddy.
Since graduating from SMU Law, Harrison has worked exclusively in the field of business law. He has spent time in private practice and in-house, working with clients of every size; from single person startups to Fortune 250 companies. Today his practice focuses on serving the diverse needs of businesses and individuals throughout Texas. You can learn more about Harrison by visiting his website, at: http://lonestarbusinesslaw.com/.
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