HOW TO BE REWARDED FOR BEING A WHISTLEBLOWER

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The New Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself, by Stephen Martin Kohn, ESQ (Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut, 2017, 550 pages).

Book Review by Dennis Moore

“You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken. That’s just common

sense.”

-          Senator Charles Grassley, July 30th 2015 – Whistleblower Day Celebration

August 29, 2017 (San Diego) - Stephen Martin Kohn, nationally acclaimed expert on whistleblower law, has written a provocative book on an issue that seems timely in this day and age; The New Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing What’s Right and Protecting Yourself.

This book resonates with me for a number of reasons, most notably, as Kohn indicates that he dedicates the book to one of his “extraordinary teachers”, A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., whom I met many years ago at an event in my hometown of Chicago, and Mr. Higginbotham signed and autographed his book to me stating; “Keep fighting for justice!” Also, my earlier personal involvement in a whistleblower and retaliation case.

What jumped out at me immediately about this well researched and documented book by Kohn, was the revelation that through his efforts, a Mr. Bradley Birkenfeld was awarded $104 million under the IRS’s whistleblower program. It was the single largest whistleblower reward paid in world history to a single individual. That should get everyone’s attention!

This book by Kohn is timely, in that Senator Charles Grassley introduced recently in the Senate a resolution designating July 30, 2017, as “National Whistleblower Appreciation Day”.

The newest edition of The New Whistleblower’s Handbook brings the most comprehensive and authoritative guide to exposing workplace wrongdoing up-to-date with new information on reward laws, compliance programs, and new rules covering wildlife, foreign bribery, auto safety, government, and ocean pollution whistleblowing. It also includes a new “Toolkit” for international whistleblowers.

“Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism, and other threats to human security to flourish.” So wrote the UN Secretary-General in the official introduction to the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Since the Convention’s approval by the UN General Assembly in 2002, it has been ratified by more than 140 countries, including the United States, South Africa, India, the United Kingdom, and Russia. The Convention not only mandates that each signatory take strong steps to combat corruption but also explicitly recognizes the importance of protecting whistleblowers as a tool in fighting corruption, so says Kohn in The New Whistleblower’s Handbook.

A prime example of how the “Toolkit” for international whistleblowers can and should work, is exemplified in a recent case and story of Mexican newspaper reporter Candido Rios Vazquez. Rios was at least the ninth journalist killed in Mexico so far this year. The spate of killings, which have targeted some of the country’s most prominent and respected reporters, has prompted international outcry, with human rights advocates and American officials pressing President Enrique Pena Nieto to do more to protect journalists.

Rios, a classic case of being a whistleblower, denounced a suspected corruption network in Hueyapan de Campo, accusing several officials of illegally using government money and cheating in past elections. Rios paid for that with his life! Possibly an incentive for other journalists in Mexico, who have been considered whistleblowers, is the fact that the Commission awarded a non-U.S. citizen $30 million for turning in a corporation that paid bribes to foreign government officials, as indicated by Kohn in his book.

In a recent phone interview with Kohn, this writer questioned him as to how best to utilize the International “Toolkit” that he writes about, and what law might be appropriate in the case of Candido Rios Vazquez and other journalists in Mexico that have put themselves in the position of being whistleblowers. The author indicated to me that the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) might apply in this case.    

This essential guide by Kohn explains nearly all the federal and state laws regarding whistleblowing, and the step-by-step bulk of the book presents thirty must-follow rules for whistleblowers – from finding the best laws to the dangers of blindly trusting internal corporate “hotlines” to obtaining the proof you need to win the case.

Stephen Martin Kohn, a partner in the law firm of Kohn, Kohn, and Colapinto, is one of the leading whistleblower attorneys in the United States and is the executive director of the National Whistleblower Center. Since 1984 he has successfully represented numerous nationally recognized whistleblowers and won the largest reward ever paid to an individual whistleblower by the US government ($104 million), which makes the author eminently situated and qualified to write this groundbreaking book. He is regularly consulted by Congressional leaders for help in drafting whistleblower laws. Kohn is also the author of several legal books on the subject.

In The New Whistleblower’s Handbook, readers discover:

·         The power of whistleblowing, which is statistically the number one source of all fraud detection and the highest form of citizen empowerment;

·         The difference between “whistleblowers” and “leakers”;

·         How federal employees can blow the whistle on the new administration – the options they have, and how they can be effective;

·         Why rewards for whistleblowers are the key to success, helping put the wrongdoers on trial;

·         How whistleblowing has changed because of ways to report anonymously – allowing whistleblowers to hide their identities, escape retaliation, and obtain rewards;

·         How the National Whistleblower Center is working to clarify the rights of wildlife whistleblowers, offering a special online confidential reporting process (located at www.whistleblowers.org/wildlife);

·         While international whistleblower laws are weak or non-existent, U.S. programs are the best resources available to citizens from around the globe – if we can figure out U.S. jurisdiction, we can help foreign whistleblowers as well.

This comprehensive and well researched and documented book by Kohn is an invaluable tool and guide to anyone finding themselves in the crosshairs of retaliation as a result of their whistleblowing. Designed as a crash course for potential whistleblowers, this step-by-step manual outlines the most up-to-date laws – revealing how to qualify for rewards, how to protect yourself from retaliation, and, of course, how to win your case.

In this provocative and well documented book, Kohn gives insight on “Whistleblower” Web Sites/Wikileaks, specifically stating: “Various organizations sponsor websites or other services that solicit whistleblowers to disclose confidential information anonymously. These sites often claim that they can protect the identity of their sources. But leaking information through these services is extremely risky and can be counterproductive. There are numerous reasons whistleblowers should be very wary of these sites.”

Kohn gives the celebrated case of Chelsea Manning as an example, who leaked information to Wikileaks, and when he was discovered by our government was sentenced to 35 years in prison. This is just one example of the plethora and wealth of information and insight that the author provides in The New Whistleblower’s Handbook.

The author reveals in this book how politicized the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is, an agency of the federal government that I have had personal experience with, specifically stating: “The Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) permits employees to initially seek protection from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) or the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), depending on the type of adverse action at issue in the case and the status of the employee victimized by the retaliation. Kohn gives extensive instructions in The New Whistleblower Handbook on how to obtain redress for perceived wrongdoing and retaliation through the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

Myself, a former Chief of Contract Data Control and Communications with the U.S. Department of Defense, and currently a member of the Coalition for Change (C4C), a Washington DC based national organization of past and current federal employees, I know from whence the author speaks. I found myself in the crosshairs of retaliation for my whistleblowing activities. As a matter of fact, members of our C4C attended and participated in the recent Whistleblower Summit in Washington DC.

Tanya Ward Jordan, the founder of the Coalition for Change (C4C), indicated to me that she first came to know the Kohn brothers in her work with Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo on the "No Fear Act", and that they are all affiliated with the "Make It Safe Coalition", and they participate in the WPA Summits each year. Kohn is pictured here with Michael McCray, and Tom Devine of GAP seated.

The author indicates in The New Whistleblower’s Handbook that based on objective empirical evidence, statistics, and studies, it is not surprising that in 2006 Congress looked toward the False Claims Act to model its IRS tax whistleblower program, and in 2010 looked at both the False Claims Act and IRS laws to model a whistleblower reward program covering the publicly traded economy and foreign bribery. On June 21, 2010 the Dodd-Frank Act was signed into law, which included two new reward-based laws covering securities fraud, commodities trading fraud, and foreign bribery. These laws contained enhanced confidentiality provisions (including for the first time, a procedure permitting whistleblowers to file anonymous complaints to the government) and set the rewards at 10 to 30 percent.

The partners of Kohn, Kohn & Colapinto contributed extensively to the Dodd-Frank Act rulemaking proceeding to ensure that both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals would be protected under the law.

In further regard to the aforementioned Bradley Birkenfeld story, in which a whistleblower won a reward of $104 million, Kohn outlines it in his book in a way that is salacious and reads like an espionage novel. Bradley Birkenfeld was a Swiss banker with inside information as to how the largest bank in the world, the Zurich-based UBS, had an illegal program of more than nineteen thousand Americans, all of whom held nondisclosed and secret accounts in Switzerland for which they did not pay U.S. taxes. Although Mr. Birkenfeld was a U.S. Citizen, there is nothing in the law that requires whistleblowers to be U.S. citizens. Any “individual” can provide information to the IRS, regardless of his or her country of citizenship.

Birkenfeld’s disclosures triggered the largest successful tax fraud prosecution in world history. The results were staggering, and the power of whistleblowers to change the world was affirmed. Here is the story persuasively and with an air of mystery told in Kohn’s book:

It all started when Bradley Birkenfeld, a banker for UBS, turned over documents proving that UBS served approximately twenty thousand U.S. clients, all of whom had illegal and undeclared bank accounts designed to hide assets from government review and thus avoid paying taxes. Based on this disclosure, UBS was forced to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with the United States. In exchange for avoiding criminal charges, UBS paid a $780 million fine and turned over information on 4,450 U.S. clients.

Kohn further points out in The New Whistleblower’s Handbook that this transaction involving UBS triggered the largest individual reward given to a whistleblower. The IRS awarded Mr. Birkenfeld $104 million under the whistleblower reward law. That award had worldwide ramifications, as taxpayers with illegal offshore accounts realized that their own bankers could become millionaires by turning them in to U.S. authorities. The “trust” needed to make an international secret banking program was undermined. Any participant in that illegal program could become a whistleblower – regardless of the participant’s own country’s domestic laws (or lack thereof) and despite the fact that he or she may have personally participated in the secret banking system.

Mr. Birkenfeld’s whistleblowing not only forced UBS to pay a large fine but also forced UBS to agree to turn over the names of the U.S. citizens who held illegal bank accounts in Switzerland. This concession radically undermined the concept of Swiss banking secrecy. Switzerland had boasted for decades that its domestic laws protected the identity of U.S. account holders, but because of Mr. Birkenfeld’s disclosures, secrecy could no longer be guaranteed. As explained in the publication swissinro.ch, “The U.S. had long suspected Swiss banks of harboring U.S. tax cheats. But Swiss banking secrecy made this impossible to prove. That changed when former UBS employee Bradley Birkenfeld came to the Department of Justice with strong documentary evidence in 2007.”

The $104 million reward, in combination with the mandatory disclosure of account-holder names and significant sanctions imposed on the banks, caused U.S. tax cheats with assets hidden around the world to panic and rush to take advantage of a tax amnesty program established by the IRS. The amnesty program was simple. Turn yourself in, pay fines, penalties, and back taxes; and in exchange you could escape criminal prosecution and keep your identity secret. If you did not turn yourself in, the IRS promised to aggressively prosecute everyone who did not turn themselves in – and seek higher fines and penalties.

The author indicates in his book that Birkenfeld did not go unscathed through his whistleblowing, as he lost his job, was prosecuted for tax violations by the U.S. government and had spent almost three years in prison. Kohn points out that; “Birkenfeld was a poster child of how whistleblowers who try to do the right thing can be utterly destroyed.”

This begs the question, and especially considering the current and ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in alleged collusion by the Trump Administration with Russia, would Mueller utilize similar tactics as with UBS to go after former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and others, as it has been alleged that they have hidden ill-gotten gains in Swiss and other offshore banks?

It is interesting to note that the author gave an interview on CNN in regard to the alleged whistleblowing of former FBI Director James Comey against President Trump, in which Kohn stated: "When you are blowing the whistle, as Comey is alleged to have done, he is constitutionally protected." View CNN interview here.

Significant in The New Whistleblower’s Handbook, is Kohn stating: “Who are these whistleblowers? Sometimes they are people you read about with admiration in the newspaper. Many others choose to be anonymous or confidential. Whistleblowers are workers performing their jobs. A pipe fitter from Aiken, South Carolina, who complained about illegal drug sales at a nuclear weapons facility was fired but won back his job. A technician from Wilmington, North Carolina, who reported radioactive contamination on her workbench. Consequently, she lost her job and never again worked in the nuclear industry. In New Jersey a drug company executive exposed fraud in sales to the federal Medicare program. As a result, he obtained a million-dollar whistleblower reward for ‘doing the right thing.’”   

This is truly a remarkable book and expose about doing the right thing, a book that I highly recommend for so many profound reasons.

Dennis Moore has been the Associate Editor of the East County Magazine in San Diego and he is the book review editor of SDWriteway, an online newsletter for writers in San Diego that has partnered with the East County Magazine, as well as a freelance contributor to EURweb based out of Los Angeles. Mr. Moore is also the author of a book about Chicago politics; “The City That Works: Power, Politics and Corruption in Chicago”. Mr. Moore can be contacted at contractsagency@gmail.com or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.

Comments

Too many elected officials are misleading and not trustworthy

To be politically correct has replaced being honest and truthful. It's not often that you see men and women of integrity who put truth and integrity over financial gain and advancement. Thank God for Stephen Martin Kohn for seeking out an elected official who is willing to tell the secret schemes and scams of his governmental peers. I hope that people in positions where they can uncover the deceit and fraud of those of influence and power will use this step-by-step model to expose the darkness and deceit that far too many of influence operate from.. Thanks Dennis for this review.

The New Whistleblower’s Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Doing

This book is timely considering the current investigation regarding the involvement of another country in our elections, and the need to know who knew what and when. Corruption in any form, whether is bribery, kickbacks etc is widespread all over the world, and there will be no end to it until and unless there is a whistle blower who is willing to risk his life, job, or constant harassment to expose what's going on. It is indeed risky that's why many workers stay mum, and turn a blind eye toward it, they want the ability to keep their jobs and feed their families, that's why I feel empathy and admiration for the Mexican journalist Candido Rios Vazquez, and sympathy for his family. He knew that there was a risk to his expose, yet he wanted to do the right thing, and paid for it with is life. I am happy that this book exists. It will be a wealth of knowledge and a source of empowerment to those who witness, and know about corruption, bribery, kickbacks and other wrong doings on their jobs but did not know how to go about bringing it to light. This book will be an indispensable tool on how to report anonymously, and how to gather documentary evidence, and although he/she may not do so for monetary gain, the whistle blower oftentimes gets compensated. I see this book as a great source of reference. It will definitely move people to action; however, fear is a paralyzing emotion, and many will still be afraid to act for fear of retaliation. Jacqueline Carr - Author "Quiet Thoughts" and "A Selected Few Just For You"

Blowing the Whistle on Federal Workpace Abuse

As President of the Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C) , I thank you for providing a review of “The Whistleblower’s Handbook” authored by Stephen Kohn, Esq. The guidebook is of critical importance to all Americans. I state this because the book offers civil servants, who serve on America’s first line of defense with regard to protecting our domestic security, insight on how to address reprisal after exposing abuses by federal government officials.Attorney Stephen Kohn has been a consistent advocate for those who speak truth to power. Over the years, I have had the pleasure to participate on panels with him during the Annual Whistleblower Summits held in Washington, DC. I am thankful for his commitment to civil rights and appreciate more recently his support for the bill, introduced by Rep. Congressman Elijah Cummings with input from The Coalition For Change, Inc. (C4C), that promotes more accountability in the Federal EEO complaint process.

Re: Whistleblower

Thank you for yet another thought-provoking review, Dennis. The quote you restated that when Kohn pointed out that “Birkenfeld was a poster child of how whistleblowers who try to do the right thing can be utterly destroyed,” it clearly demonstrated the reason so many who witness workplace abuse feel it best to keep quiet. Another clear example is in Mr. Tom Lemon's post (above) that "I saw things at work that were sexist, racist, and endangered the public health but didn't speak up because management was corrupt." I must add to this, though, that black workers are not the only ones who suffer discrimination. I believe that all people of color have a story they dare not tell for fear of retribution by those in power. Also to you point, Dennis, a friend of mine who lives in South Dakota has told me of the horrors that Native Americans suffer when applying for jobs. They are criticized for being "lazy" and wanting only to "drink and live on government hand-outs." So it becomes a never-ending cycle. They are not hired because they are Native, and then criticized because they "won't work". One can only wonder how many workers suffer excruciatingly on their job sites because they need to work and cannot risk speaking up because of the terrible price they may have to pay. I think a day honoring whistleblowers is more than appropriate and long overdue, considering what they sometimes sacrifice to make the world a better more compassionate place for ALL workers. Again, thanks Mr. Moore for another insightful review. ---KB Schaller, Author, "100+ Native American Women Who Changed the World"

Whistleblower Handbook: Review by Dennis Moore

In an increasingly corrupt world no institution is free of violations of personal rights, pollution of the environment, selling things under false pretenses, and failure to be honest. This has grave consequences socially when people get away with dishonest transactions. It is a challenge to discern what news is false and what false news is hiding. I see this as a slight-of-hand tactic where a big deal is made of something that takes away public attention from what is really happening. "Created" news is often a smoke screen used by the media and it is very hard to know what is true. Many people are in a position to see and know things that are being done that are wrong, but feel too frightened to blow the whistle as they cannot affored to lose their jobs and have families to support. This book and the review Dennis has written are most important in that this is a guide to doing what is right and doing it so that the whistleblower is as protected as possible. Any person can be put into the position of being able to look through the peephole and see all manner of assaults on our freedom. Being able to do anything about it is quite another thing. Forewarned is forearmed so reading this book can have a powerful effect on the outcome of disclosures regarding misdeeds of powerful persons and instututions. I see this as an increasingly important subject and book and thanks Dennis Moore for bringing this to our attention. It can really make a difference. MJ Payne, Author, The Remembered Self: A Journey into the Heart of the Beast..

Whistleblower Response

Amen, Dennis Moore! There are few things worse than having to work in an abusive environment day after day, and feeling powerless to do anything about it. ----KB Schaller, Author, 100+ Native American Women Who Changed the World

"The New Whistleblower's Handbook"

Just having read this book has opened my eyes to what constitutes whistleblowing and the resulting retaliation from it. The author, Stephen Martin Kohn, has done a great service to all those in fear of retribution for doing what is right.

Whistleblower

I saw things at work that were sexist, racist, and endangered the public health but didn't speak up because management was corrupt. I would be disciplined or fired. A woman was promoted and our boss did everything he could to sabotage her. There were liquid chlorine leaks every few days. Small leaks but my uniforms smelled of chlorine all the time.
A black co-worker volunteered to work night shift all the time to avoid our racist boss. I learned so much from him about what it was like to be a black man in the US. He was going to the South to visit family and stopped in a diner, Leroy and his wife were the only black people there, they got up and left feeling threatened.
Another friend was a member of the Ranger/Divers at Lake Murray and was snubbed by his white co-workers.