Ex-DOJ attorney sentenced to prison for stealing whistle-blower lawsuits

Jeffrey Wertkin, a former Washington, D.C.-based lawyer, was sentenced to 30 months in prison on March 7 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice and transportation of stolen property in November, according to the Department of Justice.

Mr. Wertkin was arrested Jan. 31, 2017, for trying to sell a copy of a sealed False Claims Act complaint. 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 technology security company 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.

On March 7, Acting U.S. Attorney Alex G.Tse said Mr. Wertkin betrayed the trust placed in him by the DOJ. "Today's sentence hopefully restores the confidence in public servants who take an oath to serve their government and demonstrates that no one is above the law. Those who run afoul of the rules established to ensure the proper function of government will be prosecuted without fear or favor," he said.

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