The number of whistleblower reports to the SEC increased again in the latest fiscal year, according to the annual report of the SEC whistleblower office. The report, which the SEC is required by the Dodd-Frank Act to provide to Congress annually, is entitled the “2014 Annual Report to Congress on the Dodd-Frank Whistleblower Program” and can be found here.
According to the report, there were 3,620 whistleblower reports to the SEC during the 2014 fiscal year (which ended on September 30, 2014). That represents an increase of 382 (11.8%) over the 3,238 that were filed in the 2013 fiscal year. The number of reports has increased each fiscal year since the program’s inception. Overall, there have been a total of 10,193 whistleblower reports since the program commenced toward the end of the 2011 fiscal year.
The agency still has made relatively few of the whistleblower bounty awards authorized under the Dodd-Frank Act, although the number of awards is slowly increasing. The agency has now made a total of 14 whistleblower awards, nine of which were made during the 2014 fiscal year; as the report notes, the agency made more awards in the 2014 fiscal year than in all the other years of the program combined. Most significantly, the 2014 awards included a single award of $30 million, which, as discussed in greater detail here, is the largest bounty award the agency has made. Significantly, the $30 million award was also the fourth award under the program to a foreign-domiciled individual, meaning that 28.5% of the small number of awards have gone to non-U.S. whistleblowers.
The report also notes that in addition to new awards during the year, the amount of awards previously made increased during the year as size of the recoveries from the wrongdoers increased, either in the agency’s own proceedings or in other parallel proceedings.
In addition to making awards, during the year the agency also denied awards to other whistleblowers. The agency reports that it has denied a total of 19 claims for whistleblower awards, with 12 of those denials taking place during the 2014 fiscal year. Among other reasons for award denials is that the information provided by the whistleblower was not “original”; the filing for the award was not timely made; or that information provided by the whistleblower did not lead to a successful enforcement action.
The agency also noted in the report that it has taken steps to curb abuses of the program. Apparently one individual has submitted 143 different applications in responses to Notices of Covered Actions as well as numerous other forms trying to establish his right to a whistleblower award. (A “NoCa” is an item posted on the agency’s website identified Commission actions that resulted in monetary sanctions of over $1 mm, allowing anyone who believes they are entitled to a whistleblower award to submit an application.) The individual’s filings apparently contained numerous deficiencies. While the individual was given an opportunity to remedy the deficiencies, he failed to do so. The Commission entered an order providing that the individual was ineligible for an award on any of the items he purported to identify to the agency or in any future covered or related action.
The most common categories of complaints reported by the whistleblowers to the SEC during the 2014 fiscal year were Corporate Disclosures and Financials (16.9%), Offering Fraud (16%), and Manipulation (15.5%).
During the 2014 fiscal year, individuals from all 50 states submitted whistleblower reports, as well as from Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. The states with the highest numbers of reports were California (556, or about 15% of all reports); Florida (264); Texas (208); and New York (206).
During the 2014 fiscal year, the agency also received whistleblower reports from a total of 60 foreign countries, and since the program’s inception, the agency has received reports from a total of 83 different countries. The countries with the largest numbers of reports during fiscal 2014 were the United Kingdom (70); India (69); Canada (59); and China (32).
It is interesting to note that while the SEC whistleblower program has attracted numerous reports from overseas whistleblower, and while over a quarter of the bounty awards so far have been made to overseas whistleblowers, the Second Circuit recently held that the Dodd-Frank Act’s anti-retaliation provisions do not protect overseas whistleblowers (as discussed here). It remains to be seen whether the involvement of overseas whistleblowers will remain as active given this absence of anti-retaliation protection.
The report also contains some interesting information about the characteristics of the individuals that received bounty awards during 2014. Among other things the agency notes that in two instances the individuals receiving the awards only brought their information to the SEC after attempting to report the violation internally within their own companies and only after their company failed to take corrective action. The report quotes the head of the agency’s Whistleblower Office as saying that the awards to these two individuals “drive home another important message – that companies not only need to have internal reporting mechanisms in place, but they must act upon credible allegations of potential wrongdoing when voiced by their employees.”
Though the SEC has now made a number of bounty awards, including the record $30 million award, the agency’s powder is dry. The report notes that the Investor Protection Fund (which was provided by Congress in the Dodd-Frank Act and out of which whistleblower reports are made) at the end of the 2014 fiscal year had a balance of $437.8 million. Clearly the agency will be making many more awards in the future, which in turn should encourage other whistleblowers to come forward.
An ABA TIPS Webinar about Interrelatedness Issues: Readers of this blog know that one of the most vexing D&O insurance coverage issues involves questions of whether or not multiple claims are or are not interrelated. An upcoming webinar presented by the American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section’s Professionals’ Officers’ and Directors’ Liability Committee will address this perennial issue.
On December 3, 2014, from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm EST, my good friend Perry Granof of the Granof International Group will be moderating a webinar panel to discuss this topic. The panel will include Serge Adams of the Schuyler, Roche & Crisham law firm, Ommid Farashahi of the Bates Carry law firm, Neil Posner of the Much Shelist law firm, and Carol Zacharias of ACE. Information about the webinar including registration directions can be found here.