We have had the second day of the
Taxpayers Against Fraudconference which is happening in Washington, D.C. The conference has been,
as always, absolutely superb.
Three whistlebowers blew the morning session wide open with their stories
about how they came forward to warn the Government about fraud they had
discovered in the course of their jobs. Cheryl Eckard, Tina Gonter, and
Allen Jones were uniformly some of the most engaging speakers I have ever
heard. Three powerful themes ran through their talks. One was that the
cost of blowing the whistle had been high for all of them, but that they
could not have chosen any different course. Cheryl Eckard put it so beautifully
when she explained that some people are just genetically engineered to
fight fraud. She pointed out that the lawyers in the room could have gone
to work for firms defending companies accused of defrauding the Government,
but at extraordinary cost to themselves had opted to fight, unpaid for
years and with no promise of any reward, ever, for the clear underdog
– the whistleblower. The whistleblowers also uniformly agreed that
the cost of secrecy – which is required by the False Claims Act
(FCA) – had been very high to them, because they had not been able
to confide in the friends who normally formed their support groups. A
third interesting theme ran through their talks, and that was how much
they had depended on support from their religions and their immediate families.
Cheryl Eckard was the manager of Global Quality Assurance for GlaxoSmithKline, but she
became very concerned about the conditions at its Puerto Rico plant, and
urged the company to close the plant. She complained too much, apparently,
and was fired in May 2003. She took her complaint to the FDA, which investigated
the Puerto Rico plant and made the largest seizure of adulterated drug
products in FDA history. The plant was finally closed in 2009. In 2010,
the case she had brought against GSK resulted in a combined civil and
criminal settlement of $750 million.
Tina Marie Gonter had spent years as a metals inspector or quality assurance specialist
for the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and then RMI Titanium Company. In 2000,
she took a job at Hunt Valve Company. She was named the Quality Assurance
Manager for the entire military product line made by Hunt. Shortly after
she began at Hunt, she came to believe that the company was defrauding
the Government, and that in doing so it was jeopardizing the lives of
our military servicemen and women. Her qui tam suit resulted in a $13,000,000
recovery for the Government.
Allen Jones worked for the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General as an investigator.
He discovered that drug companies were influencing state officials with
respect to prescription drug guidelines, and filed suit in Texas alleging
that Janssen Pharmaceuticals was illegally marketing drugs through Texas
healthcare programs. In January 2012, the case went to trial, but six
days into the trial, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen’s parent company,
settled the suit for $158 million.
These three whistleblowers reminded us that sometimes there is a very personal
toll for people who do the right thing. These three all wound up recovering
large amounts of money that had been taken from us as taxpayers.
I am an attorney who represents whistleblowers in qui tam cases, and I
have seen up close the incredible dedication, and the integrity, of these
people who are willing to stand up and do something to stop fraud being
perpetrated against all of us. I commend all three of these people, and
thank them for their willingness to do the right thing in the face of
great sacrifice and definite question as to whether they would ever be
recompensed, much less receive any reward for what they did to protect