Many people ask me, “Can I get Whistleblower Immunity if I file a qui tam False Claims Act case?” This really translates into two related questions: “Can I get into trouble with the authorities and risk paying a fine or going to jail?” And, “Can I still receive a reward for coming forward with my information?” These questions arise because very often (but not always) a whistleblower played some role in carrying out the fraudulent scheme, for example by filling out the false billing forms or invoices that were submitted to the government. In many cases the answer is “yes,” the whistleblower will not be penalized and he or she will still be eligible for a reward. However, no one can say for sure without getting additional facts and consulting the affected governmental authorities. An attorney who is familiar with, and experienced in, criminal prosecutions and immunity matters will know what questions to ask and who to talk to at the government. That is the only way the attorney can competently guide the client through this complicated issue.
With that caveat in mind, here are some things for a prospective whistleblower who is worried about immunity to consider. Were you the mastermind of the fraudulent scheme or were you just an order follower at a mid- or lower-level within an organization? Did you get any additional compensation from the fraudulent scheme or did you simply receive your regular salary, wages and income? Was there anything unusual about the type of compensation you received (such as cash in a brown paper bag–it does happen) or did you only receive a regular pay check or bank deposit? Did you encourage other people to participate in the fraudulent scheme or did you more or less just go along with others to keep your job? Did you tell co-workers that what was going on was ok or did you express some misgivings or objections? Were you ever interviewed by a government investigator and, if so, did you lie to that person and/or did you destroy evidence or is what you did wrong limited to assisting on improper business and financial transactions? Knowing the answers to these kinds of questions will most likely enable your attorney to either give you the peace of mind you are seeking or tell you that it is not possible in your particular case.