A former U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) lawyer who pleaded guilty to charges related to his stealing and selling copies of whistleblower lawsuits has been sentenced to two and a half years in federal prison.
Jeffrey Wertkin, 41, left his Justice Department job in 2016 and joined a prominent Washington D.C. law firm, taking with him copies of 40 whistleblower complaints that were under seal.
At the Justice Department, Mr. Wertkin worked in a division that handles civil whistleblower complaints filed under the False Claims Act. The lawsuits, filed by informants who allege fraud against federal programs and agencies, remain under seal while the DOJ officials investigate the claims and determine whether or not to actively litigate the case.
Mr. Wertkin copied 40 whistleblower complaints before leaving the DOJ, hoping to use them to drum up business at his new private practice job.
He was doing just that when an undercover FBI agent, posing as a potential “customer,” busted Mr. Wertkin, who was wearing a disguise, in the lobby of a California hotel.
According to Reuters, Mr. Wertkin’s lawyers argued that his “aberrant” behavior was triggered by anxiety and depression. Mr. Wertkin had a solid reputation as “a talented, well-liked young partner who appeared well on his way to a bright future,” The Washington Post reported.
Mr. Wertkin pleaded guilty in November to charges of obstruction of justice and interstate transportation of stolen goods.
Federal prosecutors said that before Mr. Wertkin left his job at the DOJ, he started making electronic copies of whistleblower lawsuits and would sneak into his supervisor’s office at night to make copies of the sealed whistleblower complaints he found there.
After leaving the DOJ, Mr. Wertkin solicited the companies he knew were under investigation. He also tried to sell some of the stolen complaints to companies named as defendants in the lawsuits.
After he was arrested, Mr. Wertkin returned to his D.C. firm “to destroy evidence and stage his office to falsely implicate other Justice Department officials as the source of the complaints,” prosecutors said.
The Washington Post said the DOJ refused to answer questions about whether Mr. Wertkin’s actions damaged the whistleblower cases he stole.