Famous Whistleblowers

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Whistleblower protections have been extended by law in this country ever since the Revolutionary War, when, in 1777, Midshipman Samuel Shaw reported that Commodore Esek Hopkins – the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy – had been torturing British prisoners of war. Hopkins sued Shaw for defamation, but the Continental Congress unanimously voted to establish the Whistleblower Protection Law in 1778 and declared that Congress would defend Shaw against Hopkins’ suit.

Since that time, there have been hundreds of whistleblowers reporting everything from military excesses to companies that cook the books to cheat the government. We are all beholden to these brave souls for helping to curb corporate greed and governmental misuse of power. Below is a brief chronological list of some whistleblowers from history whom you may recognize – and others who might just inspire you.

1942: Jan Karski, a Polish resistance fighter, attempted to blow the whistle on the Warsaw ghetto and the Jewish extermination camps. Though he met with President Roosevelt and others, his report was not taken seriously.

1966-72: Peter Buxtum exposed the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. In this outrageous “scientific study,” rural African-American men in Alabama were told they were receiving free health care from the U.S. Public Health Service – but were instead used to study the effects of untreated syphilis over a 40-year period beginning in 1932. Most damning, the study organizers actively prevented their participants from learning about or receiving penicillin after it was proven effective in 1947. Buxtum filed an official protest with the Service’s Division of Venereal Diseases in 1966, but it was rejected. Finally, in 1972, he leaked information to the Washington Star. The ensuing publicity finally ended the study.

1971: Frank Serpico was the first NYPD officer in the history of that police department tto blow the whistle on its widespread corruption, bribery, and payoffs. His efforts were memorialized in the film Serpico.

1972: W. Mark Felt (nicknamed “Deep Throat”) was the FBI agent who leaked information about the Watergate scandal to the Washington Post, leading to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

1974: Karen Silkwood identified safety concerns in nuclear power plants. Her story is told in the movie Silkwood.

1984: John Michael Gravitt launched the first successful qui tam lawsuit following a weakening of  the False Claims Act  in 1943. (Qui tam lawsuits are brought by whistleblowers who seek redress on behalf of  taxpayers. The whistleblower is granted a percentage of the recovery, set by the court, if the suit is successful.) Gravitt sued GE for defrauding the U.S. Department of Defense by falsely billing for work on the B1 Lancer. His case led to federal legislation bolstering the False Claims Act in 1986.

1989: Douglas D. Keeth filed a qui tam lawsuit against United Technologies Corporation, for whom he served as VP of Finance. Keeth had discovered exaggerated progress billings in some years of United Technologies’ records. He rejected a $1 million severance package offer and, in 1994, won a whistleblower recovery of $22.5 million.

1994-95: William Sanjour was a whistleblower at the Environmental Protection Agency for 20+ years. In 1995, he won a landmark lawsuit that established the rights of federal employees to blow the whistle on their employer, the federal government.

2002: Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins exposed the corporate financial scandal involving Worldcom and Enron.

2004: Joe Darby alerted the U.S. military command of the prisoner abuse occurring in Abu Ghraib, Iraq.

2005: Thomas Tamm, who worked as an attorney for the Department of Justice Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, informed the New York Times about mass warrantless surveillance.

2006-13: Adam B. Resnick exposed kickbacks given to nursing homes by Omnicare – and then filed a second suit over Omnicare’s acquisition of Total Pharmacy Services. Omnicare, the nursing homes, and Total Pharmacy settled their False Claims Act cases for a combined $56 million.

2009: John Kopchinski was a Pfizer sales representative who filed a qui tam lawsuit over Pfizer’s marketing of Bextra, a prescription painkiller. After pleading guilty to promoting Bextra and 12 other drugs for unapproved uses and doses, Pfizer was required to pay $2.3 billion (yes, billion) in a global settlement.

At Wagner McLaughlin in Tampa, Florida, we are dedicated to protecting the rights and interests of the courageous men and women who step forward, as whistleblowers, to bring corporate and governmental fraud to light. Is your employer illegally punishing you for your actions in exposing bad practices? Do you believe you have grounds for a qui tam lawsuit? Contact us today for a free consultation.