A former Washington D.C. law firm partner pleaded guilty last week to charges that he attempted to sell copies of sealed whistleblower lawsuits that he took with him before leaving his job at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Jeffrey Wertkin, 41, was arrested in the lobby of a Cupertino, California, hotel in January when he showed up to make an illegal transaction wearing a disguise. Mr. Wertkin had arranged to exchange the sealed whistleblower lawsuit for a duffel bag of cash with an undercover FBI agent.
According to Reuters, court records show that Mr. Wertkin pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco Nov. 29 to charges of obstruction of justice and interstate transportation of stolen goods. He is scheduled to be sentenced in March.
Before he joined the Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld firm in April 2016, Mr. Wertkin worked in the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Division, where he handled False Claims Act lawsuits filed by whistleblowers under the Act’s qui tam provision, which allows private parties to sue on behalf of the federal government in cases of suspected fraud.
When a whistleblower files suit under the False Claims Act, the complaint remains under seal until the Justice Department finishes its investigation of the whistleblower’s allegations. By law, the U.S. must look into all False Claims Act lawsuits. The government then chooses whether to intervene in the case, effectively taking over its litigation, or decline to become actively involved. Either way, the seal is lifted and the case may move ahead.
A criminal complaint against Mr. Wertkin in November 2016 states that a person calling himself “Dan” contacted an employee of an unnamed Sunnyvale, California-based security company offering to provide a copy of the sealed False Claims Act lawsuit for a “consulting fee” of $310,000.
Mr. Wertkin had removed copies of that lawsuit and others when he left the Justice Department.
The employee in contact with Mr. Wertkin contacted called 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.
Investigators also found that before he was arrested in California, Mr. Wertkin had tried to sell a second sealed whistleblower lawsuit filed in San Francisco federal court against an Oregon company.
Mr. Wertkin pleaded guilty to charges of obstruction of justice and interstate transportation of stolen goods, Reuters reported.