The False Claims Act (“FCA”) is a legal mechanism whereby private individuals may prosecute suits against businesses which engage in fraud against the Federal government. Originally enacted in 1863, the FCA has had a long and dynamic history within the annals of US jurisprudence. The FCA’s underlying qui tam concepts are alive and well. This is aptly illustrated by courageous people who risked much to redress colossal corruption and public waste. Their collective efforts have availed much in the furtherance of consumer protection and government fiscal fitness. The following are just a few of these fine heroes and heroines:
1966 - Peter Buxtun - US Public Health Service
As a 27-year-old epidemiologist and social worker in San Francisco, Mr. Buxton discovered the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment while conducting patient interviews. He filed formal ethical complaints against the US Public Health Service twice. On both occasions, his protests were deemed irrelevant. Four years later, he related his discoveries to major news media. The Experiment was ended soon afterward. Mr. Buxton gave testimony at a subsequent Congressional hearing on the matter. Major changes in US law and regulatory mandates resulted from Mr. Buxton’s courageous acts. Clinical studies now require fully-informed consent of subjects, advance diagnoses disclosures, and accurate study outcome reporting.
1972 - W. Mark Felt - FBI
Until 2005, Mr. Felt was known to the media and public only as “Deep Throat”. He was in fact the primary whistleblower in the Watergate scandal. Mr. Felt’s disclosures ultimately led to the resignation of then-President Richard Nixon. Additionally, White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and presidential advisor John Ehrlichman were sentenced to prison in connection with Mr. Felt’s information.
2002 - Cynthia Cooper - WorldCom
Ms. Cooper exposed rampant financial fraud within the WorldCom Corporation. She was subsequently named in Time Magazine’s 2002 “People of the Year” column. During her tenure as Vice President of Internal Audit at WorldCom, Ms. Cooper secretly discovered a $3.8 USD billion fraud. At that time, this was the single largest accounting fraud incident in US history.
2003 - Richard Convertino - Department of Justice
A former US Attorney, Mr. Convertino won the first terrorism case post-9/11. He testified before a Congressional Committee in September 2003 about the Bush Administration’s non-support of anti-terrorism prosecutions. Mr. Convertino alleged that Dept. of Justice officials deliberated disclosed sensitive information and acted contrary to a court order to sully his reputation in retaliation for his public exposes.
2006 - John Kopchinski - Pfizer, Inc.
A former Pfizer sales representative, Mr. Kopchinski revealed deceptive marketing practices. He also informed about the pharmaceutical giant’s extensive non-compliance with FDA regulations. During the ensuing governmental investigation, rampant violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”) 21 USC 301-97 also came to light. Pfizer was also found guilty of numerous violations of the Anti-Kickback and Stark Statutes over a seven-year period. The subsequent FCA suit yielded the largest criminal fine ever imposed in any US prosecution. The case also netted the highest civil fraud settlement against any prescription drug manufacturer.
2009 - Wendell Potter - CIGNA
During his tenure as corporate communications head of CIGNA, Mr. Potter gave testimony against US Health Maintenance Organizations in US Senate hearings. He disclosed appalling practices of an HMO-run free clinic in rural Virginia. His testimony recounted how low-income patients waited in long lines for basic medical treatment. Mr. Potter buttressed his shocking revelations with photographs of neglected patients lying on wet pavement and trolleys. Mr. Potter’s valiant efforts played a key part in current healthcare reform. The above examples are just a few sterling examples of how whistleblowers have affected major beneficial social reform. Their valor and tenacity serve as beacons for others to come forward and in exposing endemic high-level corruption.