Corporate Whistleblowers

Much of what we accept as legal in medical billing would be regarded as fraud in any other sector.

I have been circling around this conclusion for the past five years, as I’ve listened to patients’ stories while covering health care as a journalist and author. Now, after a summer of firsthand experience — my husband was in a bike crash in July — it’s time to call out this fact head-on. Many of the Democratic candidates are talking about practical fixes for our high-priced health care system, and some legislated or regulated solutions to the maddening world of medical billing would be welcome.

My husband, Andrej, flew over his bicycle’s handlebars when he hit a pothole at high speed on a Sunday ride in Washington. He was unconscious and lying on the pavement when I caught up with him minutes later. The result: six broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken finger, a broken collarbone and a broken shoulder blade.

The treatment he got via paramedics and in the emergency room and intensive care unit were great. The troubles began, as I knew they would, when the bills started arriving.

I will not even complain here about some of the crazy-high charges: $182 for a basic blood test, $9,289 for two days in a room in intensive care, $20 for a pill that costs pennies at a pharmacy. We have great insurance, which negotiates these rates down. And at least Andrej got and benefited from those services.

What I’m talking about here were the bills for things that simply didn’t happen, or only kind-of, sort-of happened, or were mislabeled as things they were not or were so nebulously defined that I couldn’t figure out what we might be paying for.

Continue Reading When your medical bill amounts to fraud

Today the National Whistleblower Center launches its Climate Corruption Campaign. I would like to share why I believe this campaign and the whistleblowers who will be at the heart of it are so badly needed.

For those fossil fuel and industrial logging company executives who may be reading this and be familiar with the corruption I describe: I encourage you to contact the National Whistleblower Center on our secure intake form and engage with us in a conversation about becoming a confidential whistleblower!

Climate Emergency

Last month, 11,000 scientists from around the world came together to issue a clarion call: “planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.” They predicted that “untold suffering” would ensue without an “immense increase” in effort to address the climate crisis.

I have always believed we are an intelligent species, quite capable of rescuing our civilization from the miseries of runaway climate change. The impressive gains in renewable energy and energy efficiency in the past few decades have only reinforced this belief. We now have the technology we need to get us most of the way to solving the climate puzzle and we have the ingenuity to take us the rest of the way.

Yet just last week, the Global Carbon Project released a report finding that in 2019, despite impressive progress with clean energy, global fossil fuel emissions had increased for the third straight year. Meanwhile a blizzard of studies strengthened the links between rising carbon emissions from fossil fuels, deforestation and other sources and the intensification of fires, floods and other extreme weather events as well as rapid ice melt on the world’s glaciers.

The urgent need for action is clear. We must not only bear down on proven strategies like rapidly deploying wind and solar energy. We also must finally come to grips with what is happening inside the companies producing fossil fuels. (I will write at a later date about coming to grips with the illegal timber trade.)

Continue Reading Enlisting Whistleblowers to Combat Crime in the Fossil Fuel and Industrial Logging Industries

As part of our #GivingTuesday campaign this year, the National Whistleblower Center is highlighting the stories of several whistleblowers who spoke at the 2019 National Whistleblower Day celebration.

Sherron Watkins, Enron whistleblower

Sherron Watkins is the former Enron Vice President who wrote a now infamous memo in the summer of 2001 to then-CEO Kenneth Lay warning him about improper accounting methods.

At the time, Enron was one of the largest corporations in the U.S. and a giant in the energy-trading and utilities field. Fortune had named it “America’s Most Innovative Company” for six consecutive years. However, Watkins’ memo revealed that the company’s finances were sustained by systemic accounting fraud and corruption.

Enron was forced to declare bankruptcy in late 2001, and she was called to testify before both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate about the accounting irregularities that she had found in the financial statements. 
Continue Reading The memo that brought down Enron

As part of our #GivingTuesday campaign this year, the National Whistleblower Center is highlighting the stories of several whistleblowers who spoke at the 2019 National Whistleblower Day celebration.

Eugene “Gene” Ross is a former Bear Stearns employee who uncovered the Amerindo Investment Advisor fraud in September 2004.

The principals of Amerindo – Alberto Vilar and Gary Tanaka – misappropriated at least $5 million from a client and made false and misleading statements. In November 2008, they were convicted for defrauding investors.

Gene was a witness for the Department of Justice and testified at the trial; an internal memo he wrote documenting the fraud was also used as evidence.

Because Gene blew the whistle, Vilar and Tanaka went to prison. The Amerindo victims got most of their money back. Without him, none of this would have happened.

But his honesty came at a price – Gene was heavily retaliated against by Bear Stearns. He was chastised, fired, and sued. In 2010, he was forced to declare personal bankruptcy.

Continue Reading Retaliated against for exposing massive fraud

10/21 update: On Monday, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced it is rescheduling Wednesday’s meeting on proposed changes to its whistleblower program. According to the SEC’s open meeting website, the meeting, previously scheduled for October 23rd, is “cancelled.”

Stephen M. Kohn, chair of the NWC board, issued a statement; ” We welcome the postponement of the October 23rd meeting. It is vitally important that the SEC understands all of the issues and gets this rulemaking right.”


Continue Reading Changes to SEC whistleblower rules would “destroy the program”

Harvard Law School professor Terri Gerstein writes that the case of the IC whistleblower is strangely familiar to her.

A worker learns of brazen violations of law and feels compelled to speak up. The boss and his buddies go bananas, demanding to know the worker’s identity, making veiled or explicit threats, disparaging the worker’s credibility…

Terri Gerstein

Gerstein is director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Law School Labor and Worklife Program. Writing in The American Prospect, she describes what she’s seen in her years of enforcing workplace laws: A fast food is worker fired after reporting a gas leak to the fire department. An airport skycap reported fired the day after appearing at a press conference about minimum wage violation. Countless examples of workers being pressured to stay quiet about sexual harassment.

These examples point to the need for better protections for workers who report serious illegality. The focus on these high-profile whistleblowers should be a catalyst for strengthening whistleblower laws in general, which are currently a patchwork.

Protections vary from statute to statute and from state to state. Ideally, these laws would include strong protection against retaliation; confidentiality; standing for whistleblowers to bring their own lawsuits; and finally, incentives for coming forward. These goals are not unrealistic; the False Claims Act, for example, allows people reporting fraud against the government to file their own lawsuits. The Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service have paid millions of dollars to whistleblowers who have provided original information leading to successful enforcement actions.
Continue Reading Outspoken workers from the shop floor to the C-suite are not always protected by whistleblower laws

Whistleblowers exposed the technology collapse at Theranos, the life science start-up at the center of a new HBO documentary.

In January, Tyler Shultz and Erika Cheung told their stories at a session hosted by Stanford University’s McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society. They talked about how disorienting and frightening their experiences at the company were after they realized the touted blood testing system didn’t work.

Cheung said she doubted herself at first. She had a feeling “that there was something wrong going on here, but maybe there is something I’m not seeing. You’re surrounded by so many talented people… Everyone else was being very nonchalant about what was going on, just going through the motions and the grind of every day, knowing there were so many problems.”

More in this clip. A video of the entire session is available on YouTube. 

4/2 update: CNN reports that Cheung and Tyler have started an organization called Ethics in Entrepreneurship.


Continue Reading HBO documentary features Theranos whistleblowers: “I’m not one of those people who can keep quiet.”

Some might see whistleblowers as lucky lottery winners when their multimillion-dollar rewards come through. But, the title of the piece in the February 4 issue of The New Yorker reflects the other side of the story: “The Personal Toll of Whistleblowing”

“Whistleblowers are usually, but not always, employees or members of the group on which they’re blowing the whistle; after they do so, their lives are never the same,” writes Sheelah Kolhatkar. She joined The New Yorker in 2016 after a writing about Wall Street and financial crime for Bloomberg Businessweek.

“Institutional denial, obfuscation, and retaliation are hallmarks of many whistle-blowing cases,” she writes.

new york whistleblower artKolhatkar runs through a list of notable whistleblowers, including New York City police officer Frank Serpico, tobacco company whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand; Sherron Watkins of Enron; and National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. That they were all portrayed in Hollywood films is no surprise. Whistleblower tales are often David versus Goliath dramas.

Continue Reading A New Yorker story makes the case: Whistleblowers need protection against retaliation

Corporate ComplianceOriginally published at Corporate Compliance Insights on November 19, 2018 by Guest Columnist Donna Boehme.  

Donna Boehme, the “Lion of Compliance,” comments on Novartis as a new “rock star” on the corporate compliance landscape, observing that the company has elevated its approach to compliance, culture and trust to best practice “Compliance 2.0” status – first, with its 2014 appointment of an independent and empowered CECO with true compliance SME (earned in the field) and now, with the elevation of the role to include all management risk functions and with a seat on the executive management team. She also notes as best practice the company’s establishment of a new bonus system that links bonuses to ethical leadership behavior, a feature many leading companies have yet to achieve.
Continue Reading Pharma Giant Graduates to Compliance 2.0

its largest whistleblower awardMajor breakthrough for whistleblowers reporting commodity frauds

WASHINGTON, D.C. | July 12, 2018—The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) today announced its largest whistleblower award to-date in a commodity fraud case.  According to the Commission, it issued “an award of approximately $30 million to a whistleblower who voluntarily provided key original information that led to a successful enforcement action”
Continue Reading Largest Award Issued in Commodity Fraud Case