New York Poised to Become One of Most Whistleblower-Friendly Places
As anonymous whistleblowers make national headlines daily, so do the attacks on their integrity and calls to reveal their identity. In order to combat the chilling effect on the courageous individuals who report fraud or misconduct, New Yorkers—both at the state and city level—are doubling down on whistleblower protections and encouraging observers of corruption to come forward.
Lat week, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the creation of an anonymous, open-source submission system for whistleblowers. The system uses the Tor browser—an encrypted browser that prevents surveillance and hackers and blocks third-party trackers or ads from following a user’s web activity—in order to protect the whistleblower’s information.
Individuals can download the Tor browser and go to the attorney general’s whistleblower portal, where they are directed to a specific URL. Once they access the URL, they can fill out a form to describe the fraud or misconduct they are reporting and upload any files.
This anonymous submission system is the first of its kind adopted by a United States government agency. As the Attorney General noted, “[the NY AG’s] advanced Whistleblower Portal will help to attract, engage, and protect whistleblowers, and in turn enhance fairness and the rule of law in our society. At a time when some are leveling threats against those who seek to call out corruption, New York will stand up for all those who fight for transparency and justice.”
This heightened scrutiny of whistleblowers is also what led a Bronx Councilman to introduce legislation in the same week that would further strengthen whistleblower protections in New York City.
Currently, as former U.S. Attorney General Preet Bharara and current New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) Margaret Garnett noted in their recent call for more government whistleblowers, by executive order “New York City government imposes an uncommon obligation on public servants, requiring them to report wrongdoing.” City employees and contractors who report misconduct to the DOI and a few other government agencies are protected from retaliation.
Councilman Ritchie Torres’s proposed bill would afford the same anti-retaliation protections to those who report to and cooperate with City Council investigations, thereby creating an additional category of whistleblower. It would additionally impose a timetable of 90 days for the DOI to investigate whistleblower complaints.
The combination of this state program and city legislation (if passed) would make New York one of the friendliest places for private sector and government whistleblowers alike. New York State already boasts one of the most powerful state False Claims Acts. Unlike the federal or other state FCAs, New York State’s statute provides for a longer statute of limitations, a narrower public disclosure bar, a lower pleading standard for whistleblowers, and a broader anti-retaliation provision. New York City has its own FCA that was strengthened in 2012 to more closely align with the state statute.
Both laws provide for rewards for whistleblowers where the government successfully recovers from the entities who committed fraud. Whistleblower reward programs vary depending on the type of fraud, and navigating their intricacies requires legal expertise.
In a time of intensified attacks on whistleblowers, New York State and New York City are leading the way in protecting the safety of those who choose to do the right thing at great personal risk. For more information on the risks and benefits of whistleblowing, and for an overview of the whistleblower reporting process, please click here.
If you believe you have witnessed fraud or misconduct, whether in New York State, in other states, or at the federal level, please contact us.