March 16, 2023 | North Carolina Whistleblower
Doing the Right Thing: Famous Whistleblowers of the False Claims Act (FCA)
The FCA is federal legislation enacted by Congress that guarantees the right for American taxpayers to blow the whistle on fraud committed against the federal government.
While this might not seem like a big deal at first, the FCA whistleblower law is intended to prevent the gross harms that occur to society as a result of fraudsters stealing taxpayer money. Those who are affected include:
- Seniors who can’t afford health care
- Soldiers fighting and dying to defend American freedom
- Anyone who’s ever had a prescription filled
- You, the American taxpayer who works hard for your money and shouldn’t have to worry about criminals stealing from you by ripping off the government
Who are some of the most famous whistleblowers in American history?
There have been many whistleblowers throughout history, some of whom became famous or changed society, either nationally or locally here in the Carolinas. Many became millionaires or received six-figure settlements for their service in reporting the theft of government property.1,3
Some of the most noteworthy whistleblowers and most famous whistleblower cases include:
Enron whistleblower who testified about the company’s illegal accounting practices
Enron was a publicly-traded energy company that became notorious when it misled shareholders through deceptive accounting practices to artificially increase its share price. It did so in partnership with what was one of the “Big 5” of accounting firms in the U.S., Arthur Anderson.
Sherron Watkins was Enron’s vice president of corporate development who first noticed the irregularities. She tried to bring them to the attention of CEO Ken Lay, but he ignored her. She subsequently blew the whistle, resulting in the largest Chapter 11 bankruptcy in history to that point and an $11 billion loss for shareholders.1,3 She also testified before Congress in the resulting federal investigation.
The unsung hero of Watergate who first raised questions about Nixon’s “dirty tricks”
You may know the name Mark Felt, but there were other whistleblowers crucial in unraveling the Watergate scandal. Nixon’s wrongdoing might have never been discovered if it weren’t for Martha Mitchell, former wife of John Mitchell, the head of Nixon’s reelection campaign. Martha discovered that her husband had engaged in “dirty tricks” to try and get Nixon reelected, including directing the break-in at Watergate.
When she tried to go to the media with what she knew, Nixon’s goons kidnapped and drugged her in an effort to intimidate her while his reelection campaign lambasted her in the press. However, her actions were enough to start the movement that brought the scandal into public view. Nixon himself said, “If it hadn’t been for Martha Mitchell, there’d have been no Watergate.”
In addition, there are also many other noteworthy whistleblowers from the Carolinas who didn’t necessarily become famous but did receive significant rewards for their service.1,3 They include:
Exposed massive academic fraud at UNC
The University of North Carolina (UNC) – Chapel Hill employed Mary Willingham as a counselor working with student-athletes to help them excel academically. However, she discovered that UNC was enrolling student-athletes in fake, “paper” classes to maintain their eligibility to compete and generate revenue for the university. The university falsely accused her of lying, but was forced to admit the truth after she went to the media. She blew the whistle to expose the largest academic fraud in NCAA history to that point and received a settlement of $335 thousand as her whistleblower reward.1,3
Dr. Jeffrey Wigand
Tobacco whistleblower who called out Big Tobacco for making their products more addictive
In May 1996, Vanity Fair published an article titled, “The Man Who Knew Too Much” about Dr. Jeffrey Wigand. He is a former vice president of Brown & Williamson, a tobacco company. In the article, he exposed the company for adding more harmful chemicals to their products to increase their addictiveness.
Dr. Michael Drakeford
Refused a kickback offer and got rewarded for blowing the whistle instead
Tuomey Healthcare System is a hospital system in South Carolina that had improper financial relationships with physicians, which led to illegal billing of Medicare. The hospital entered into contracts with physicians that required them to refer services to Tuomey in exchange for exorbitant bribes and kickbacks. Dr. Drakeford was an orthopedic surgeon who received one of Tuomey’s illegal contracts but refused to sign – he became a whistleblower instead. He received $18.1 million of the government’s $72.4 million recovery.
Dr. Gibran Ameer
Blew the whistle on a huge healthcare kickback scheme
Respironics, Inc. is a medical supply company that manufactures products primarily for respiratory functions, such as ventilators and breathing tubes. South Carolina pharmacist Dr. Gibran Ameer was an executive at a medical supply company when Respironics approached him with an illegal kickback scheme to sell their sleep apnea masks.
The plan was for Respironics to not charge Ameer and other scheme participants for customer service to their patients when they’d normally charge a dollar per month per patient. This might not sound like a lot, but for suppliers serving hundreds or thousands of patients, it could make a huge difference. Ameer responded by blowing the whistle on them and received $5.38 million of a $28.7 million recovery.
Mark McGuire (not the baseball player)
Lab director who did the right thing and got rewarded
Carolina Healthcare System (CHS) is a hospital network that operates in North Carolina and South Carolina. It fraudulently claimed that some of the urine drug tests it performed were of a greater complexity and thus more expensive than they really were. Mark McGuire was a lab director for CHS when he noticed the corruption and reported it. He received $1,365,000 of the government’s $6.5 million settlement.1,3
Doctors Thomas L. Mason and Steven G. Folstad
Called out dishonest hospital admitting procedures and got paid in return
Envision Healthcare Corporation is a hospital system that operates in North Carolina. It received kickbacks for illegally increasing inpatient Medicare admissions that should have been billed as far less costly outpatient or observation procedures. Drs. Mason and Folstad operated a medical practice together that worked with Envision, and it was through this business relationship that they discovered the Medicare fraud. They received $6.2 million of the government’s $29.8 recovery.1,3
Darryl Landis, MD
Refused to support a scheme to submit unnecessary lab tests and was rewarded
Genova Diagnostics is a clinical laboratory services company based in Asheville, North Carolina. It fraudulently billed the government for medically unnecessary lab tests. It also paid kickbacks to three phlebotomy vendors who were involved in the fraud.
Dr. Darryl Landis, Genova’s former Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, became aware of the scheme and turned into a whistleblower. He received $6 million of the government’s $43 million recovery.1,3 Genova was also forced to submit itself to independent review for regulation compliance as part of an agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.
Why do people become whistleblowers?
There can be significant financial incentives to FCA whistleblowing. Whistleblowers whose cases are successful may receive up to 30% of the government’s recovery. However, this is just one reason why people come forward.
In fact, many whistleblowers are primarily motivated by a sense of duty and personal integrity. They’re in situations where they know something wrong is or may be happening and they want to stop it or at least avoid supporting it. Many also believe in patriotically protecting the American taxpayer from fraud.
Regardless of their motivations, whistleblowers play a vital role in society by trying to hold fraudsters accountable for their actions that directly hurt vulnerable people.
What should you do if you suspect someone is stealing from the government and want to be a whistleblower?
Whistleblowing serves a crucial function in society by exposing corruption and fraud. If you have information or evidence of fraud against the government, contact us or call 1-888-292-8852 for a free and confidential case evaluation. We will put your best interests first.
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Contact the Carolina
If you’re wondering if it’s a good idea to speak with a whistleblower lawyer about what you know, let us set the record straight.
- Corporate ethics hotlines can be risky and may lead to termination. If you’ve already done this, call us immediately.
- Your coworkers could be aware of the fraud – or complicit in it – and you should not talk to them about it.
- The first claim to be filed under the False Claims Act can proceed – if you’re not first, you’re at a serious disadvantage and may get nothing (another reason not to speak to your coworkers about it).
- A confidential discussion costs you a few minutes, but could save you time, stress, and money.
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