Former DOJ Attorney gets 2-1/2 Year Sentence for Attempting to Sell Sealed Whistleblower Investigations
Jeffrey Wertkin was a trial attorney in the Civil Fraud section of the Department of Justice. In that role, Wertkin led more than 20 major corporate fraud investigations and prosecutions until leaving his post after six years to join the DC law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in April 2016. Once described as a “straight arrow”, Wertkin’s life and career took turns for the worse after he left the DOJ and became a partner at Akin Gump.
According to The Washington Post, while preparing to leave the DOJ, Wertkin began collecting sealed whistleblower complaints, including cases he was not assigned to, with the intention of selling the sealed information to the targets of DOJ investigations. Wertkin said in his plea, “I began secretly reviewing and collecting complaints to identify clients to solicit for business when I was in practice and, thereby, to make myself more successful at Akin Gump.” In a bizarre finale fit for a Coen Brothers movie, Wertkin was finally arrested dressed in a wig and fake mustache while trying to sell sealed information from a federal lawsuit for $310,000 in Bitcoin to an unnamed California-based company. Why he was doing this while making a $450,000 salary at Akin Gump is hard to fathom. Last Wednesday, Wertkin was sentenced to 2 -½ years in prison after pleading guilty.
While the details of Wertkin’s case border on the absurd, the corruption and abuse of power he perpetrated are serious. The False Claims Act has been described as the government’s primary weapon for fighting fraud against the government and enabling it to recover ill-gotten funds. The success of the law depends greatly on whistleblowers being willing to come forward and alert the government to potential fraud by filing a complaint in court under seal. The complaint is served on the government, but not on the defendant , and it not made public for a period of time so that government agents can investigate cases in secrecy and decide if the case has merit. Furthermore, Wertkin’s actions have the potential to undermine the future whether to pursue the case. Whistleblowers, who are often current employees of the defendant, take great risks in filing qui tam complaints and trust in the government’s ability to protect their anonymity.
Several of us are former DOJ prosecutors and now as whistleblower attorneys we have worked with DOJ lawyers for over 15 years. We take comfort in knowing that Mr. Wertkin’s behavior is very much the exception, not the rule. DOJ lawyers are dedicated civil servants, competent prosecutors, and worthy of the public trust.