The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has announced nearly $4 million in whistleblower awards this week, though changes to agency’s tipster program set to be discussed Wednesday will once again hit the back burner.
The larger of the two awards, announced Tuesday, was unusual in that the whistleblowers were not corporate insiders but instead a pair of analysts whose “highly probative independent analysis” of a public company’s filings led to “several successful enforcement actions.”
The joint whistleblowers received $2.5 million for their tip and for providing “helpful assistance early in the investigation, which helped save Commission time and resources,” the SEC said in a press release.
“Detailed analysis by outsiders of companies can have a significant impact on the enforcement of the federal securities laws,” stated Jane Norberg, chief of the Office of the Whistleblower. “Today’s award demonstrates the Commission’s commitment to awarding individuals who provide high quality independent analysis that leads to successful enforcement actions.”
The SEC Whistleblower Program shields the identity of the tipsters and does not link the whistleblowers to the successful enforcement action. However, the whistleblowers who received the joint award identified the company they analyzed and issued statements via their legal representatives at the firm Labaton Sucharow.
The whistleblowers said they analyzed the publicly available information “to support their suspicions that Orthofix, a leading medical device company, was engaging in widespread accounting fraud.”
As a result of the whistleblowers’ tip, Orthofix and four former executives in 2017 settled with the SEC for more than $14 million.
“We still can’t believe it. When we reported, we knew the numbers didn’t add up, but we doubted that the SEC would do anything about it,” noted the anonymous whistleblowers in a press release. “We were wrong about that. The SEC took our analysis and ran with it. Equally important, we were able to remain anonymous – which is crucial in our industry.”
A spokeswoman for Orthofix Medical said the company self-reported the issues to the SEC and cooperated fully with the agency’s investigation. As for the whistleblowers, the company said it “was not involved in any discussions between SEC and individuals identified as whistleblowers, and the company has no further comment.”
On Monday, the SEC announced another, more traditional award of $1.25 million to a whistleblower whose “significant information” led to an enforcement action “that resulted in the return of millions of dollars to harmed investors.”
SEC delays vote on whistleblower changes—again
The SEC was planning to meet Wednesday to discuss changes to the whistleblower program announced back in 2018 but canceled the meeting Tuesday without offering a new date. It is the second time a meeting to vote on the proposed changes was canceled after the same thing happened last October.
Controversial changes to the program could weaken retaliation protections for whistleblowers and also reduce large awards.
The Commission said it has awarded approximately $510 million to 92 individuals since issuing its first award in 2012, including awards worth $123 million to 25 individuals in this fiscal year.
All payments are made out of an investor protection fund established by Congress that is financed entirely through monetary sanctions paid to the Commission by securities law violators. Whistleblower awards can range from 10 percent to 30 percent of the money collected when the monetary sanctions exceed $1 million.