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Jeffrey Werkin: Former DOJ Attorney Sentenced for Trying to Sell Sealed Whistleblower Complaints

August 12, 2018

Jeffrey Wertkin was a trial attorney in the Civil Fraud section of  the Department of Justice. In that role, Wertkin led more than 20 major corporate fraud investigations and prosecutions until leaving his post after six years to join the DC law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in April 2016. Once described as a “straight arrow,” Wertkin’s life and career took turns for the worse after he left the DOJ and became a partner at Akin Gump.

Jeffrey Wertkin’s Scheme

According to The Washington Post, while preparing to leave the DOJ, Wertkin began collecting sealed whistleblower complaints. These included other attorney’s cases. He intended to sell the sealed information to the targets of DOJ investigations. Jeffrey Wertkin said in his plea, “I began secretly reviewing and collecting complaints to identify clients to solicit for business when I was in practice and, thereby, to make myself more successful at Akin Gump.”

The bizarre finale of this story is fit for a Coen Brothers movie. The FBI finally arrested him wearing a wig and fake mustache. His arrest came while trying to sell a complaint for $310,000 in Bitcoin.  The intended buyer was an unnamed California company. No one has explained why he chose this scheme while making a $450,000 salary at Akin Gump. Last Wednesday, a federal judge sentenced Jeffrey Wertkin to 2½ years in prison after pleading guilty.

The Seal Provisions of The False Claims Act Are Vital

While the details border on the absurd, this matter is a serious case of corruption and abuse of power. The False Claims Act has been described as the government’s primary weapon for fighting fraud against the government and enabling it to recover ill-gotten funds.

The success of the law depends greatly on whistleblowers willingness to come forward and alert the government to potential fraud.  The law protects whistleblowers by requiring that they file the complaint under seal.  The whistleblower serves the complaint the government.  But he does not serve it on the defendant.  Furthermore, the complaint remains nonpublic while the government investigates the cases in secrecy and decides if it has merit.

Furthermore, Jeffrey Wertkin’s actions have the potential to undermine the future whether to pursue the case. Whistleblowers, who are often current employees of the defendant, take great risks in filing qui tam complaints and  trust in the government’s ability to protect their anonymity.

Conclusion

Several of us are former DOJ prosecutors and now as whistleblower attorneys we have worked with DOJ lawyers for over 15 years.  We take comfort in knowing that Mr. Wertkin’s behavior is very much the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of DOJ lawyers serve with dedication as civil servants, competent prosecutors, and worthy of the public trust.

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