$11.7 million for blowing the whistle

Even before the Dodds-Frank Act comes into play, whistleblowing can be lucrative in the United State

On Tuesday, Martha Gill revealed the new rewards enabled by the Dodds-Frank act for American whistleblowers.

As she wrote:

A change in whistle blower regulation now has employees rushing about making secret recordings and photocopying internal documents... The new law potentially offers multimillion dollar payouts for those who uncover cases of fraud...

That said, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is not exactly rushing to reward its informants.

The Dodds-Frank act has yet to pay out, but the major change it introduced was the ease with which whistleblowers could get paid, rather than the concept of paying whistleblowers per se. America has a longstanding tradition of financial rewards to those prepared to go through the arduous process of revealing an employer's illegal actions, and on Wednesday, two Georgia mortgage brokers, Victor Bibby and Brian Donnelly, received $11.7m for doing just that.

Reuters reports:

The pair, who worked for U.S. Financial Services Inc, a mortgage brokerage firm in Alpharetta, Georgia, said they became suspicious when lenders told them not to show an amount charged for attorneys fees on loan documents, but instead add the sum to the charge shown for "title examination fee."

After lenders ignored their concerns, Bibby and Donnelly hired an attorney and filed a whistleblower suit.

In the end, the information they supplied was instrumental in forcing JP Morgan to pay a $45m settlement to the government, of which the pair - and their attorneys - received 26 per cent. The case was one of five settlements instituted by whistleblowers which came to light this week, for a combined payout of $227m.

They had to work hard for their money, however, and it is this disincentive which the SEC will be hoping to remove:

The suit remained under seal to give the government time to investigate. Bibby and Donnelly had to keep mum for more than five years and try to find ways to avoid charging the hidden fees.

"For both our families being hushed for such a long time and holding this inside was unbearable," Donnelly said in an interview. "It puts a lot of stress on you."

Being able to get the payout without the five years of living a lie could indeed markedly increase the number of tips. The next concern will be weeding the cranks from the pile.

Referee Mark Clattenburg blows his whistle, ending some football. Credit:Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.