One of Washington’s biggest growth industries is its whistle blowers. Currently, about a thousand Justice Department investigations are underway against private companies accused of screwing Uncle Sam.
The suits originate with private citizens who, generally after trying to fix things internally, turn their companies in to the federal government in hopes of claiming a reward. It is sort of an American tradition, dating back to the Civil War, and the whistle blowers can claim up to 25% of whatever the government collects.
The payoffs can be extraordinary. In October, a former employee of GlaxoSmithKline collected $96 million of the Fed’s $750 million payday. But it’s not an easy trip to the bank.
I know. I recently eavesdropped on a secret whistle blowers gathering in downtown Washington. Curiously, it was a cross between an AA meeting and a strip club. It was led by a man with a name I assume was a fake.
“Good evening everyone. I’m Darren Brockovich,” he said. “And I’m a whistle blower!”
At this, the crowd applauded, stomped their feet and threw hundred dollar bills in the air.
Darren then pulled the audience of about 60 into the proceedings. He asked a bespectacled man in the second row to introduce himself and tell his story.
“I’m Larry d’Legend, and I’m a whistle blower!” he said, and applause and hundred dollar bills rained down on him.
“I worked for Big Ass Chemicals for three years as a product inhaler. They told me everything was safe. When I started to cough blood I complained, and they fired me.”
Boos filled the room.
“But it’s OK. The Justice Department this week filed suit against my old company for $400 million! Soon I’ll be driving a Bentley!” The cheers were deafening.
Next up was a slim woman with a Jamaican accent.
“I’m Mucha Dinero and I’m a whistle blower,” she said. Applause. Money.
“I worked for The Sun’s Always Shining nursing home chain for three years. Then I saw their secret racetrack. They would ride the senior citizens like ponies and wager on who would cross the finish line first. I turned them in. The only problem is it’s been seven months now and the Feds seem to be sitting on their ass. I’m losing hope.”
A dozen knowing voices offered reassurance, saying the process could take a long time. They urged her to stick with it, saying soon she’d be able to buy Montego Bay’s plush Half Moon resort.
Then Darren introduced the evening’s featured speaker.
“What an honor it is to present to you tonight the Michael Jordan of our industry. A brave women who set a new American record for whistle-blowing by collecting nearly $200 million.”
The crowd whooped and hollered. Someone threw a thousand dollar bill.
A middle-aged women in a Chanel suit walked to the microphone. When the applause died down, she spoke.
“I’m Sue Evreewun, and I’m a whistle blower,” she said. Two women and a man in the back row fainted.
“Yes, it was a lot of money. But the costs were enormous. First the taxes. Then my lawyers got a third. I’ve been out of work for eight years.
“I never expected this. When I joined the Midas Milk Foundation, they told me that the nicotine in our product was naturally created by the cows to help with pasteurization. I didn’t know they were inserting it to make milk addicts. Then I learned the truth and blew the whistle.”
“But it was worth it. Justice sued, and this afternoon I signed a movie deal with Clint Eastwood.
“I’m using the money to buy the company and fire the board.”
Bill Regardie was the founder and publisher of Regardie’s Magazine.