The FBI has launched a sweeping investigation into the circumstances surrounding a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney who was arrested in January after he was caught trying to sell a secret whistleblower lawsuit.
According to Bloomberg, FBI agents are questioning Justice Department lawyers about Jeffrey Wertkin, their former colleague who left the agency last April to work for a private D.C. firm. Investigators are trying to determine whether someone within the Justice Department provided Mr. Wertkin a copy of the False Claims Act lawsuit or if he took a copy with him when he left the agency.
An FBI agent arrested Mr. Wertkin in the lobby of a Cupertino, California, hotel Jan. 31 as he handed off a copy of the sealed whistleblower lawsuit against a Silicon Valley company to an undercover agent. Mr. Wertkin, wearing a wig for the encounter, believed the agent was a contact from the defendant company and that he would return to D.C. $310,000 richer.
The FBI is also investigating whether Mr. Wertkin may have sold other secrets while working for the Justice Department.
A lawyer familiar with the case told Bloomberg that they FBI is “going to have to review all of his cases,” calling the investigation “a Pandora’s box of questions.”
Once a whistleblower files a False Claims Act lawsuit on behalf of the government, the complaint remains under seal for months, sometimes even years, while the federal government investigates the claims. After the investigation, the seal is removed and 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.
Bloomberg reports that Mr. Wertkin, 40, secured a coveted position with Justice Department in 2010, working on cases involving health care fraud. He left the position in April 2016 and went to work for a firm defending companies sued under the False Claims Act.
Mr. Wertkin initiated contact with the Silicon Valley company, offering to provide a contact there with a copy of the whistleblower suit in exchange for a “consulting fee.” The employee contacted the FBI after Mr. Wertkin faxed a redacted copy of the lawsuit’s cover page. The FBI played along from there until the arrest was made.
According to Bloomberg, while at the Justice Department, Mr. Wertkin worked on False Claims Act cases involving hospice chain AseraCare, PharMerica Corp., and Medco Health Solutions.