I interviewed many offshore whistleblowers and potential
whistleblowers during my time with the IRS, some high profile and some known
only to the IRS and myself. It’s always
surprised me how many people think whistleblowing is only about the money. In fact, I’ve attended conferences, including
the OffshoreAlert conference, where regulators, attorneys and subject matter
experts talked exclusively about the money … how much can be received, how much
has been paid out to date and even how much could be in it for you. While money is certainly a big motivator for
all of us, when it comes to whistleblowing I’ve always found that it’s often
more about honesty, integrity and conscience.
Certainly there are those who do it only for the money and
there is really nothing wrong with that motivation since the law provides for
it. In my experience, however, these
modern day “tax bounty hunters” only represent a very small percentage of those
who come forward … at least insofar as significant cases are concerned. By far, most whistleblowers I encountered saw
a social injustice occurring and as a matter of personal integrity and
conscience couldn’t stand by idly and watch it continue. In some cases the injustice involved illegal
activities, in others it involved financial frauds being perpetrated on others
and in still other cases it involved large-scale tax evasion.
I’ve had whistleblowers contact me anonymously to provide
information about illegal offshore activity without any request for or
expectation of receiving a reward … they just wanted to provide the information
and then be left alone. I once even had
someone walk up to me at one of the OffshoreAlert conferences, hand me a thick
envelope and say, “you might be interested in this” before walking away. When I opened the envelope, it contained
copies of documents, emails and other credible evidence of fraudulent
activities involving offshore tax evasion. I’ve had whistleblowers come forward, provide
detailed and very specific information, consent to be interviewed, agree to
cooperate fully and then say they had no interest in profiting from
the information. For many, filing a
claim for reward came only as an after thought suggested by others rather than
being their reason for coming forward.
It’s not easy to be a whistleblower, especially if you’re
blowing the whistle on your own employer or business partners. I’ve known whistleblowers that had their
lives and livelihoods shattered, their reputations ruined and their family
relationships damaged all while former “friends” deserted them. Some have been harassed, threatened and
retaliated against and yet still they came forward as a matter of conscience for
the greater public good. Why on earth shouldn’t
they be compensated for having the courage and integrity to come forward,
especially when the law expressly provides for it?
Maybe it’s time to stop talking about whistleblowing as being
nothing more than a grab for money.
Maybe it’s time to stop looking upon whistleblowers with disdain as greedy
informants. Maybe it’s time we changed
the rant from “Show Me The Money” to “Show a Little Respect” … I think most of
them have earned it … in fact I know it.