What is a Whistleblower?
A Whistleblower, for all intents and purposes, is a person who reports wrongdoing. This could mean an employee reporting something as simple as harassment to a boss at work, to reporting something more complex such as fraud committed against the government by an employer. In the latter case, the individual reporting the fraud, often referred to as a “Whistleblower”, retains a lawyer specializing in this type of law, and files a Qui Tam Lawsuit. This lawsuit is filed with various government agencies and is initially kept under “seal”, so as not to warn potential targets of an investigation.
This website is predominantly concerned with the aspect of fraud committed against the government, how it is most effectively reported, and the ways whistleblowers can benefit from such reporting.
When a whistleblower files a Qui Tam lawsuit, they are referred to in the lawsuit as the “relator”.
Now let’s take a brief look at the roots of the whistleblower lawsuit, and how it has evolved into what it is today – a Behemouth legal mechanism used to recover massive amounts of money defrauded from the government.
Whistleblower Origins – Rome
Whistleblowers go all the way back in history to ancient times. The earliest reported whistleblower laws appear to have been legislated by the Romans in the Imperial Era. In those times the word for relator was “Delator”, which is the Latin term for denouncer.
In early Roman times, a delator was rewarded for reporting misdeeds with various incentives ranging from a share of the property of the condemned to the right of citizenship. Apparently if the crime reported was big enough, and the bounty recoverable, the informer could even earn a seat in the senate.
Cicero was of the opinion that this type of arrangement should be more narrowly construed to cover only matters of state or other urgent issues, making frivolous claims less likely.
As with all well intentioned laws involving reward, corruption quickly permeated this one. In the times of the Roman Empire the corruption attached to these types of claims reached its height, and everybody from slaves to knights to literary men and lawyers joined in the mayhem. The wealthy were often targeted with false accusations in attempts to garner a portion of their wealth.
Whistleblower Origins – England
The earliest recorded Qui Tam laws in England go back to Wihtred of Kent, who enacted a law that those who “broke the Sabbath” and worked would be fined, and the informer would receive half the fine.
The English Parliament legislated the first official Qui Tam Statutes in the Fourteenth Century.
The Statute of York, enacted in the early 1300’s, was basically a law aimed at corrupt public officials who were selling items prohibited for sale by the king. Wine was one of those items. According to the statute, one third of the seized items went to the whistleblower as a thank you from the king.
In the mid 1300’s Parliament further widened the scope of potential Qui Tam targets to include jurors who accepted bribes, as well as mayors, bailiffs and sheriffs who failed to enforce certain laws.
The Qui Tam Statutes were, in large part, enacted to prevent public officials from profiting from corrupt acts.
Whistleblower Origins – United States
Though most people think that whistleblower laws in the United States started with President Abraham Lincoln and the False Claims Act, they actually started some years earlier in colonial times. The first whistleblower protection law in the United States was passed in 1778, incited by the case of Richard Marven and Samuel Shaw.
The complaint filed by these men was not the typical whistleblower lawsuit meant to report fraud against the government, but instead, a case of reporting wrongdoing on the part of a government official. In this instance the commander of a naval ship, Esek Hopkins, was accused of torturing captured British soldiers. The sailors who helped report this were Richard Marven and Samuel Shaw, part of a group of other sailors who decided not to stand idly by while these instances of torture occurred. They wrote a petition to be delivered to the Congress.
Marine Captain John Grannis delivered the petition to the Continental Congress, which subsequently suspended Hopkins from his duties. In retaliation for the petition, Commodore Hopkins filed a criminal suit against the men for libel. The two sailors, Richard Marven and Samuel Shaw, who were unlucky enough to be in Rhode Island at the time the suit was filed, were jailed.
In their defense of Commodore Hopkins’ libel suit, Marven and Shaw stated to Congress that they were only doing their duty to report the wrongdoing. In response to the sailors’ defense, congress passed the first whistleblower protection law. Congress even went a step further and paid the legal fees of Marven and Shaw to fight the libel suit brought by Hopkins. Thankfully, Marven and Shaw won the case.
Fraud in the Civil War Leads to the False Claims Act
The American Civil War was a fraudster’s playground. There were no checks and balances against fraud committed against the military, and contractors as well as military men took advantage of this theater, rife with corruption. Any type of provision sold to the army had the potential to be corrupted, thereby enriching the contractor who sold it. There were times when the fraud was so sinister, it could have actually cost many soldiers their lives. This refers to the sale of faulty rifles and ammunition. Bullets were said to have been made without gunpowder, and rifles that were no longer in working condition and had been discarded by the military were being resold as still in working order. Blankets, uniforms and shoes sold to the military were often of tragically inferior make. Mules and horses sold were in no condition to work and sometimes were delivered blind and starving. There is even the purported purchase of a ship by the Navy that was unfit to sail. Contracts, rather than be awarded to the lowest bidder, were often given to friends and associates who received exorbitant fees.
This widespread defrauding of the military and gauging of the government is what led to the passing of the False Claims Act. President Lincoln was in office at the time the False Claims Act was signed into law, so it is also known as the “Lincoln Law”.