Image of DOJ's New Whistleblower Reward Program Will Supercharge White Collar Enforcement

DOJ’s New Whistleblower Reward Program Will Supercharge White Collar Enforcement

In a speech today at the ABA’s National Institute on White Collar Crime, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced a new pilot whistleblower reward program that will fill significant gaps in existing whistleblower reward programs by paying awards from the DOJ’s Assets Forfeiture Fund. The DOJ plans to announce the details of the program in approximately 90 days and launch it this year. Monaco stated that the program will “create new incentives for individuals to report misconduct.”

Similar to the “original information” requirement that a whistleblower must meet to qualify for an SEC whistleblower award, the DOJ would pay an award to a whistleblower where the whistleblower “helps DOJ discover significant corporate or financial misconduct — otherwise unknown to [DOJ].”

The statutory basis for the award program is existing authority to pay awards for information or assistance leading to civil or criminal forfeitures.  In particular, 28 U.S.C. § 524 (c)(1)(C) authorizes the Attorney General to pay “awards for information or assistance leading to a civil or criminal forfeiture involving any Federal agency participating in the [Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund].”  According to a DOJ Office of Inspector General audit report, the Assets Forfeiture Fund’s forfeiture revenue for FY 2022 was $1.75 billion.  Whistleblowers could potentially qualify for substantial awards where their disclosures lead to the forfeiture of the assets of criminals and their organizations, including terrorist financiers, cyber criminals, human traffickers, and transnational drug cartels.

Monaco identified four guardrails for the program.  The DOJ would offer payments:

  • Only after all victims have been properly compensated;
  • Only to those who submit truthful information not already known to the government;
  • Only to those not involved in the criminal activity itself;
  • And only in cases where there isn’t an existing financial disclosure incentive — including qui tam or another federal whistleblower program.

The DOJ’s new pilot whistleblower reward program would broaden the scope of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations for which whistleblowers could qualify for awards.  The SEC whistleblower program pays awards for FCPA violations committed by issuers and can pay a related action award where the DOJ takes an enforcement action based on the same original information that the whistleblower gave to the SEC leading to the SEC obtaining an order for monetary sanctions totaling more than $1 million.  And the CFTC can pay awards for whistleblower disclosures about violations of the Commodity Exchange Act involving foreign corrupt practices.  Prior to this DOJ whistleblower pilot program, prospective whistleblowers have not had a financial incentive to report FCPA violations that do not fall within the jurisdiction of the SEC or CFTC.

This program could also fill a significant gap in the Anti-Money Laundering Act whistleblower reward statute (AMLA) in that the AMLA’s definition of “monetary sanctions” for which a whistleblower can qualify for an award does not include forfeiture.  As forfeiture is a common remedy in anti-money laundering and sanctions evasion enforcement actions, the AMLA whistleblower law significantly limits the monetary sanctions from which FinCEN can pay whistleblower awards. In defining the eligibility criteria for awards under the pilot program, the DOJ should avoid excluding disclosures that are covered under the AMLA whistleblower program where the whistleblower’s disclosure leads to forfeiture of the proceeds of money laundering or sanctions evasion.  By paying whistleblower awards from civil and criminal forfeitures, the DOJ’s pilot program would provide a strong incentive for whistleblowers to report money laundering, sanctions evasion, and other violations that implicate US national security interests.

Monaco highlighted three types of violations for which the DOJ is especially interested in attracting disclosures:

  • Criminal abuses of the U.S. financial system;
  • Foreign corruption cases outside the jurisdiction of the SEC, including FCPA violations by non-issuers and violations of the recently enacted Foreign Extortion Prevention Act; and
  • Domestic corruption cases, especially involving illegal corporate payments to government officials.

This new DOJ whistleblower reward program, coupled with DOJ initiatives to encourage companies to self-disclose violations and whistleblower pilot programs designed to encourage early and voluntary self-disclosure of criminal conduct by individual participants in certain non-violent offenses, creates strong incentives to report violations promptly and assist with government investigations.  As Monaco said in her speech, “knock on our door before we knock on yours.”

The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse recently released a study finding that the DOJ’s prosecution of white-collar crime has been dropping steadily for the past decade and that “the majority of criminal referrals for white-collar offenses that federal prosecutors receive are closed without prosecution.”  The DOJ’s new whistleblower reward program could reverse that trend by enlisting whistleblowers to disrupt and dismantle illegal enterprises, deprive criminals of the
proceeds of illegal activities, and deter crime.

For example, a whistleblower could disclose documents or recordings that enable the DOJ to prove that senior corporate officials paid a bribe to a foreign government to get a contract award for a large infrastructure project.  Or a whistleblower could provide critical investigate leads that enable the DOJ to obtain the evidence required to halt a sanctions evasion scheme that provides funds to Iran in violation of US sanctions.

Whistleblower reward programs have been extraordinarily effective in  combating corporate fraud.  For example, whistleblower disclosures to the SEC have led to enforcement actions with monetary sanctions exceeding $6 billion and have helped the SEC to return more than $1 billion to harmed investors.  False Claims Act qui tam actions have enabled the DOJ to recover more than $75 billion.  These programs have a demonstrated record of success and will continue to be an important force multiplier to combat white collar crime.

In formulating the rules governing the pilot program, DOJ should mandate a minimum award percentage of 10% (consistent with the SEC, CFTC and AMLA whistleblower reward programs), require the prompt payment of awards, include measures that would protect the identity of a whistleblower to the fullest extent possible, prohibit employers from impeding whistleblowers from making lawful disclosures to the government, and bar culpable whistleblowers from obtaining awards only where they are convicted of a criminal violation related to the unlawful conduct that they disclose to the government.  Culpability could be a relevant factor to consider in determining the amount of an award, but should not be a categorical bar to eligibility for an award.

Resources About Whistleblower Reward Programs

Our experienced and effective whistleblower rewards lawyers can help you determine if you qualify for a whistleblower reward and work with you to maximize your recovery under various whistleblower reward programs, including the following:

Guide to Anti-Money Laundering Whistleblower Rewards

Guide to Anti-Money Laundering Act Whistleblower Rewards and Protections

The Process to Qualify for an SEC Whistleblower Reward

How to Qualify for an SEC Whistleblower Award

False Claims Act / Qui Tam Whistleblower Law

IRS Whistleblower Reward Program

FAQs About SEC Whistleblower Program

The SEC whistleblower process is lengthy and complex. See below for articles responding to frequently asked questions by SEC whistleblowers.

  1. What is the SEC Office of the Whistleblower?
  2. What are the largest SEC whistleblower awards?
  3. Can I submit a tip anonymously to the SEC Office of the Whistleblower?
  4. What exactly does anonymous whistleblowing entail?
  5. What employment protections are available for SEC whistleblowers?
  6. What violations qualify for an SEC whistleblower award?
  7. Can the SEC bring enforcement actions against international schemes?
  8. Who is an “eligible” SEC whistleblower?
  9. Can compliance personnel, auditors, officers or directors qualify for SEC whistleblower awards?
  10. Can I submit a claim if I had some involvement in the fraud or misconduct?
  11. Can culpable whistleblowers qualify for SEC whistleblower awards?
  12. Do I have to report a potential violation to my company before reporting it to the SEC?
  13. What type of evidence should I provide to the SEC?
  14. Can I use confidential company documents to expose fraud?
  15. Can I disclose secret recordings to the SEC?
  16. Can I submit a tip if I agreed to a confidentiality provision in an employment/severance agreement?
  17. When is the best time to report the fraud or misconduct to the SEC?
  18. What is “original information”?
  19. Can I submit an SEC Whistleblower claim if the SEC already has an open investigation into the matter?
  20. How might my information “lead to” a successful SEC enforcement action?
  21. What “related actions” qualify for an SEC whistleblower award?
  22. How do the best SEC whistleblower law firms advocate for whistleblowers?
  23. How do I choose the best whistleblower attorney?
  24. Why should I choose the Zuckerman Law to represent me in my SEC whistleblower claim?
  25. How do I submit a tip to the SEC Office of the Whistleblower?
  26. What happens after I submit a tip to the SEC Office of the Whistleblower?
  27. What is the full process for a whistleblower to receive an award?  
  28. What factors does the SEC consider when determining the amount of the award?
  29. What happens after I apply for an SEC whistleblower award?
  30. What is the process to appeal the SEC’s award determination?
  31. How long does it take to receive an SEC whistleblower award?

SEC Whistleblower Rewards

The table below identifies some of the largest SEC whistleblowers rewards:

Whistleblower AwardDateBasis for Whistleblower Award
$279 millionMay 5, 2023On May 5, 2023, the SEC announced its largest-ever award, nearly $279 million, to a whistleblower whose information and assistance led to the successful enforcement of SEC and related actions.
$114 millionOctober 22, 2020On October 22, 2020, the SEC announced an award of $114 million to a whistleblower whose information and "substantial, ongoing assistance" led to the successful enforcement of SEC and related actions. The award consisted of an approximately $52 million award in connection with the SEC case and an approximately $62 million award arising out of the related actions by another agency.
$110 millionSeptember 15, 2021On September 15, 2021, the SEC announced its second-largest whistleblower award of $110 million. According to the press release announcing the award, the award consists of an approximately $40 million award in connection with an SEC case and an approximately $70 million award arising out of related actions by another agency. With the award, the SEC Whistleblower Program has now paid more than $1 billion in awards to whistleblowers.
$104 millionAugust 4, 2023On August 4, 2023, the SEC announced an award of $104 million to seven individuals whose information and assistance led to a successful SEC enforcement action and related actions brought by another agency.
$50 millionApril 15, 2021On April 15, 2021, the SEC announced a $50 million award to joint whistleblowers. The press release announcing the award stated, "The joint whistleblowers provided exemplary assistance to the SEC staff during the investigation, including meeting with staff numerous times and providing voluminous detailed documents. The information provided by these individuals resulted in the return of tens of millions of dollars to harmed investors."
$50 millionJune 4, 2020On June 4, 2020, the SEC announced its then largest-ever whistleblower award of $50 million to a whistleblower. In the press release announcing the award, the Chief of the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower, Jane Norberg, stated: "This award is the largest individual whistleblower award announced by the SEC since the inception of the program, and brings the total awarded to whistleblowers by the SEC to over $500 million, including over $100 million in this fiscal year alone. Whistleblowers have proven to be a critical tool in the enforcement arsenal to combat fraud and protect investors."
$50 and $33 millionMarch 19, 2018On March 19, 2018, the SEC announced an award of $50 million to two whistleblowers and an award of $33 million to another whistleblower. See the SEC's order determining the whistleblowers' award claims here.
$39 and $15 millionSeptember 6, 2018On September 6, 2018, the SEC announced its second-largest SEC whistleblower award to date of $39 million. According to the SEC's Press Release, the whistleblowers provided critical information and continued assistance that helped the SEC bring an important enforcement action.
$37 and $13 millionMarch 26, 2019On March 26, 2019, the SEC announced its third-highest SEC whistleblower award to date of $37 million. Another whistleblower received a $13 million award in the same action, totaling $50 million in awards to the two whistleblowers.
$36 millionSeptember 24, 2021The Securities and Exchange Commission announced an award of approximately $36 million to a whistleblower "whose information and assistance significantly contributed to the success of an SEC enforcement action as well as actions by another federal agency."

According to the SEC's press release announcing the award, "the whistleblower provided crucial information on an illegal scheme to the SEC's and the other agency's staffs, which included multiple meetings and the identification of key documents and witnesses. Under the SEC's whistleblower program, individuals who provide critical information to other agencies may be eligible for a related action award if they are also eligible for an award in the underlying SEC action."
$30 millionSeptember 22, 2014A foreign whistleblower came to the SEC with “information about an ongoing fraud that would have been very difficult to detect.”

This award underscores that non-US citizens are eligible whistleblowers in the SEC Whistleblower Program.
$28 millionMay 19, 2021On May 19, 2021, the SEC announced an award to a whistleblower totaling more than $28 million in connection with an SEC enforcement action and a related action by another federal agency. The whistleblower’s information caused both the SEC and the other agency to open investigations that resulted in significant enforcement actions.
$28 millionNovember 3, 2020The SEC issued a $28 million award to a whistleblower who "provided significant information that aided the SEC in bringing a successful enforcement action." According to the press release announcing the award, the whistleblower "internally reported information that prompted the company to initiate an internal investigation, and saved the staff time and resources by providing testimony and identifying a key witness."

$27 millionMay 17, 2021The SEC awarded almost $27 million to two whistleblowers who provided SEC staff with "new information and assistance during an existing investigation, including meeting with the staff in person on multiple days." According to the SEC's press release, the whistleblowers' "information and cooperation helped the Commission bring the enforcement action, which resulted in the return of millions of dollars to harmed investors."
$27 millionApril 16, 2020The SEC issued a $27 million award to a whistleblower who alerted the agency to misconduct occurring, in part, overseas. After providing the tip to the SEC, the whistleblower provided critical investigative leads that advanced the investigation and saved significant SEC resources. For more information, click here.
$23 millionJune 2, 2021The SEC issued two awards of approximately $13 million and $10 million to two whistleblowers whose information and assistance led to successful SEC and related actions. According to the SEC's press release: "The whistleblowers’ information and assistance led to multiple successful enforcement actions related to a complex and fraudulent scheme involving multiple individuals and tens of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains.”
$22 millionMay 10, 2021On May 20, 2021, the SEC issued awards totaling $22 million to two whistleblowers whose information and assistance were of "crucial importance to successful SEC enforcement actions brought against a financial services firm." According to the SEC's press release: "The first whistleblower received an award of $18 million, while the second whistleblower received a $4 million award [because] the first whistleblower was the initial source of the investigation while the second whistleblower submitted information much later after the investigation was already underway."
$22 millionSeptember 30, 2021The SEC issued an award of almost $30 million to two insider whistleblowers whose tips led SEC staff to open an investigation. The first whistleblower, who was the first to alert SEC staff of potential wrongdoing and provided substantial, ongoing assistance, received an award of approximately $22 million. The second whistleblower provided additional valuable information, which significantly contributed to the success of the SEC's enforcement action, and received an award of approximately $7 million.
$22 millionAugust 30, 2016A former financial executive at Monsanto exposed weaknesses in the company’s internal controls that failed to account for millions of dollars in rebates. Monsanto agreed to settle the allegations of accounting fraud for $80 million.

Importantly, external auditors, internal auditors, accountants and other compliance personnel may be eligible for awards under the SEC Whistleblower Program. Indeed, they are often best positioned to discover wrongdoing.
$20 millionNovember 14, 2016According to the SEC's order determining the whistleblower awards, three whistleblowers applied for awards related to the enforcement action. The SEC denied two of the whistleblowers' applications because they did not provide "original information," and issued the full $20 million award to one whistleblower.
$18 millionApril 28, 2020The SEC announced an award of more than $18 million to a whistleblower whose tip prompted an enforcement action that returned millions of dollars to retail investors.
$17 millionJune 9, 2016A company insider “substantially advanced the agency’s investigation and ultimate enforcement action.”

This award highlights that whistleblowers may receive an award if they provide original information regarding an open SEC investigation if it significantly contributes to the success of the action.
$16 millionNovember 30, 2017Two whistleblowers received awards of more than $8 million each for providing the SEC with critical information that led to a successful enforcement action.

This award demonstrates how whistleblowers can receive an increased award percentage for providing ongoing, extensive, and timely assistance to the SEC. As detailed in the SEC's order, the second whistleblower received the same $8 million award as the first whistleblower by providing additional significant information and ongoing assistance to the SEC that "enabled the Enforcement staff to more fully and quickly understand the misconduct and to assess the legal consequences... [which] saved a substantial amount of time and resources in the Investigation."
$14 million September 30, 2013The whistleblower exposed a fraudulent offering that targeted foreign investors who sought to gain a legal pathway to citizenship through the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program.
$9.2 million February 23, 2021The whistleblower provided significant information about an ongoing fraud to the SEC that enabled a large amount of money to be returned to investors harmed by the fraud. In addition, the whistleblower information led to successful related actions by the DOJ, one of which was a non-prosecution agreement (NPA) or deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). The award marks the first SEC whistleblower "related action" award based on a NPA or DPA with the DOJ since amendments to the SEC’s whistleblower program rules became effective on Dec. 7, 2020.
$7 millionJanuary 23, 2017Three whistleblowers split an award of more than $7 million after helping the SEC prosecute an investment scheme.

One whistleblower provided information that was the primary reason that the SEC opened an investigation. That whistleblower received a more than $4 million award. Two other whistleblowers jointly provided new information during the SEC’s investigation that significantly contributed to the success of the SEC’s enforcement action. Those two whistleblowers will split more than $3 million.
$5.5 millionJanuary 6, 2017An anonymous whistleblower orally provided the SEC with critical information about ongoing securities fraud. Generally, the SEC requires that whistleblower provide information “in writing.” However, the SEC waived that requirement in this case due to “highly unusual circumstances” and awarded the whistleblower more than $5.5 million for the information.

This award marks the third time that the SEC has deemed it appropriate to waive a procedural requirement. The most recent exception occurred on July 27, 2017, when the SEC issued a $1.7 million whistleblower award to an insider who failed to comply with all of the whistleblower program's rules and had some culpability in the fraud. The former chief of the SEC whistleblower office said that these awards underscore the SEC’s discretionary authority to do what justice requires.
$5 millionApril 20, 2020The SEC issued a $5 million award to a whistleblower who provided significant information that led to a successful enforcement action. According to the SEC, the whistleblower provided critical evidence of wrongdoing, which helped save time and resources in the SEC’s investigation, and the whistleblower suffered a unique hardship as a result of raising concerns internally.
$5 millionMay 17, 2016A former company insider’s detailed tip led the agency to uncover securities violations that would have been nearly impossible for it to detect but for the whistleblower’s information. The SEC's press release noted that employees are often best positioned to witness wrongdoing.
$4 million April 25, 2017The SEC issued the $4 million award to an anonymous whistleblower who provided information that led another governmental authority to a successful enforcement action resulting in significant monetary sanctions. This award highlights that SEC whistleblowers may be eligible for awards for "related actions."
$4 million September 30, 2016The SEC issued the award to an anonymous whistleblower for “alter[ing] the agency to a fraud.”

The lack of publicly available information about the anonymous whistleblower and the enforcement action underscores how serious the SEC is about protecting whistleblower's. Under the program, whistleblower may report anonymously through an SEC whistleblower attorney.
$3.8 millionJuly 14, 2020The SEC issued a $3.8 million award to a whistleblower that provided new information
during the course of an ongoing investigation into a fraudulent scheme. According to the order announcing the award, the information that the whistleblower provided “helped the Commission halt an ongoing fraud and return millions of dollars to harmed investors.”
$3.5 millionMay 13, 2016The whistleblower “bolstered an ongoing investigation with additional evidence of wrongdoing” which helped the SEC during settlement discussions with the company.

This award underscores how whistleblowers may still receive an award even if the SEC already has an open investigation into a matter.

Jason Zuckerman, Principal of Zuckerman Law, litigates whistleblower retaliation, qui tam, wrongful discharge, and other employment-related claims. He is rated 10 out of 10 by Avvo, was recognized by Washingtonian magazine as a “Top Whistleblower Lawyer” in 2015 and selected by his peers to be included in The Best Lawyers in America® and in SuperLawyers.

Matthew Stock is the Director of the Whistleblower Rewards Practice at Zuckerman Law. He represents whistleblowers around the world in SEC, CFTC and IRS whistleblower claims. He is also a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Fraud Examiner and former KPMG external auditor.