Ex-DOJ attorney admits trying to sell secret whistle-blower lawsuits

Ayla Ellison (Twitter) - Print  | 

Jeffrey Wertkin, a former Washington, D.C.-based lawyer, was arrested Jan. 31 for allegedly trying to sell a copy of a sealed False Claims Act complaint. On Wednesday, he pleaded guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice and one count of transportation of stolen property, according to the Department of Justice.

The False Claims Act allows whistle-blowers to file lawsuits under seal on behalf of the government. The cases are kept under seal, sometimes for several months, while the federal government investigates the claims and decides whether to intervene.

According to his plea agreement, Mr. Wertkin, who worked for the Civil Fraud Section of the DOJ from Oct. 24, 2010, until April 12, 2016, secretly reviewed and collected sealed whistle-blower complaints that were not assigned to him during the last month of his employment with the DOJ. He also admitted to using the stolen information to solicit clients who were the subjects of the sealed complaints after he left the DOJ.

The plea agreement describes an instance where Mr. Wertkin tried to sell a sealed false claims complaint to an unidentified technology security company in Sunnyvale, Calif. An employee of the company received a voicemail Nov. 30, 2016, saying a false claims complaint had been filed against the company. When the employee called the number left on the voicemail, Mr. Wertkin, who identified himself as "Dan," answered and said he could provide a copy of the complaint for a fee.

After Mr. Wertkin mailed a redacted copy of the complaint to the employee, the employee contacted the FBI. On Dec. 22, 2016, Mr. Wertkin told the employee he would provide the full complaint for $300,000 and requested to be paid in untraceable bitcoins.

After boosting the price tag for the complaint to $310,000 to cover travel expenses, Mr. Wertkin agreed to deliver the complaint to a colleague of the employee on Jan. 31.

The colleague was actually an FBI agent. At the scheduled time and place, Mr. Wertkin, who was wearing a disguise, delivered the false claims case to the agent and was immediately arrested.

The plea agreement describes a second instance, which occurred just before Mr. Wertkin's arrest, where he contacted another company and offered to mail a copy of the face sheet of a complaint. Mr. Wertkin mailed a redacted copy of the face sheet and said he would provide the entire complaint for a fee, according to the DOJ.

Mr. Wertkin also admitted that after being released from custody he returned to his office at the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, purportedly to retrieve his personal belongings. However, he destroyed and removed documents from his office he knew could further incriminate him. Mr. Wertkin acknowledged he took these steps to obstruct the ongoing investigation and proceedings against him.

Mr. Wertkin faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count of obstruction of justice, and up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for interstate transportation of stolen goods. His sentencing is scheduled for March 14.

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