A D.C. lawyer from a leading international firm was busted in a Cupertino, California, hotel last month for trying to sell a copy of a False Claims Act lawsuit that was under seal.
According to Bloomberg, an FBI agent arrested Jeffery Wertkin on Jan. 31 in the lobby of the Cupertino hotel. Mr. Wertkin, wearing a wig and going by the name Dan, believed he was handing the lawsuit to a contact of the potential defendant company in exchange for $310,000.
The False Claims Act contains a qui tam or “whistleblower” provision that allows private parties to sue on behalf of the federal government in cases usually involving suspected fraud against a federal agency or program.
Once a whistleblower files a False Claims Act lawsuit, the complaint remains under seal for months, sometimes even years, while the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigates the claims. After the investigation, the Justice Department can opt to intervene in the case, effectively taking over litigation, or decline direct involvement, in which case the lawsuit may still move forward.
Mr. Wertkin, who worked for the U.S. Justice as a trial attorney before joining the D.C. firm in April 2016, believed a copy of the lawsuit could help the company “get out ahead of the investigation,” which was being conducted in secret.
According to Bloomberg, Mr. Wertkin earned his law degree in 2002 and a Ph.D. in government in 2008 from Georgetown University, where he also teaches a course on federal and administrative agencies as an adjunct professor.
The plot to sell the sealed complaint started when an unidentified technology security company in Sunnyvale, California, received a voicemail on Nov. 30. The FBI said that the caller said a False Claims Act lawsuit had been filed against the company and left a number where he could be reached.
The employee called the number and the person who answered the phone, Mr. Wertkin, identified himself as Dan. He then offered to provide a copy of the complaint for a “consulting fee.” The employee notified the FBI after receiving a redacted copy of the complaint’s cover page in the mail, and further communications between the employee and Mr. Wertkin allowed the FBI to arrange a sting.
“My life is over,” Mr. Wertkin told the FBI agent, according to Bloomberg.
Mr. Wertkin appeared in San Francisco federal court Feb. 1 and was released on $750,000 bail, which was secured by real estate in Washington D.C.