One year ago on Christmas Eve at approximately 3:00 pm, I received a call from my banker. $50 million dollars had been wired into my account. Most of that was for my whistleblower client but because of the impending holiday, the large amount of money involved and security protocols, he and I would have to wait a few days. Today, I tell a different similar story but one that also has a happy ending.
Blake Percival was an employee of USIS, a company that provides background checks and security clearances for the government. USIS, short for U.S. Investigations Services LLC, is the company that gave Edward Snowden his security clearance. They also “cleared” Aaron Alexis, the madman who shot 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard a few years ago.
No vendor or contractor can be 100% perfect on every background check but the Wall Street Journal found that 8 of USIS’ employees have been convicted of fabricating information. According to Blake Percival, the company was cutting corners everywhere and putting profits before national security.
We first told the USIS story in October of 2013 after Blake’s whistleblower complaint was unsealed. Under federal law, whistleblower complaints are filed in secret. A sealing order keeps them under wraps and is designed to help the government investigate. Only when a case is unsealed can we discuss or report it.
The case was unsealed over 2 years ago but continued to drag on until now. In August, USIS agreed to settle the case for $30 million. As part of the settlement, it was not required to admit any wrongdoing. Continued threats of bankruptcy and last minute maneuvering kept Blake and his family waiting, however. This month, Blake Percival received a check for $6,015,783.00. Finally, after years of uncertainty and near poverty, Blake’s efforts as a whistleblower paid off.
Our 2013 post tells the story of USIS and the allegations of fraud. (We still must call them allegations because despite a $30 million settlement and the convictions of several employees, the company has never admitted wrongdoing.) This post will try to tell the story of Blake Percival and the amazing whistleblower award he earned.
According to his complaint, Blake began working at USIS in 2001. His first position was as a field investigator. In that job, Blake knocked on doors, reviewed public records and did everything possible to insure that workers who obtain security clearances are loyal citizens and not a threat to the United States. There is a certain amount of irony that Blake began working to protect the United States in the same year that the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked by terrorists. Perhaps that is why he took his job so seriously.
Blake’s hard work and efforts were evidently noticed. In 2005 he was promoted to a team leader position. Two years later he was promoted again to head the Birmingham District of USIS. In January of 2011, he was promoted to Director of Fieldwork Services. That is when his eyes were opened to the fraud going on within the company. That is when Blake Percival decided to become a whistleblower.
Blake says that after his last promotion, a USIS vice president introduced him to “dumping.” That occurs when field investigations are released to the government even if they have not been reviewed, are incomplete or have not even investigated. Why would USIS engage in dumping? According to Blake, it was simply to insure that the company met its revenue goals. Profits over national security.
Blake was first ordered to “dump” files in April of 2011. He refused to so. By June, he was fired and unemployed. According to media reports, Blake took odd jobs and even worked at an entry level position for one of USIS’ competitors. Nothing could come close to the $110,000 salary and bonuses he had been making, however. Often he had to support his family on unemployment checks.
Blake did something else, however. He filed a False Claims Act sealed complaint in federal court. Originally filed in Alabama, the case was later transferred to Washington D.C. Under the Act, a whistleblower can receive up to 30% of whatever the government recovers from wrongdoers. Between 2011 and the complaint’s unsealing in the fall of 2013, however, he had to keep the complaint a secret.
During those years, and right up until this month, Blake today tells reporters that things were tough financially. Unable to pay bills, Blake had to move his family into his mother’s house. He and his wife slept in the living room.Blake told a reporter from the Tribune that he plans on taking the $6 million and throwing the expired food out of the freezer and buying an RV to travel around the country with his wife and daughter. We suspect there will be lots of last minute Christmas shopping too.
We have represented many people like Blake. Whistleblowers are the new American heroes. Often, however, their former employers don’t view them that way. The False Claims Act contains strong anti-retaliation provisions but it sometimes takes years for an award or anti-retaliation payment to come.
Not every whistleblower suffers retaliation, of course. But even for those that don’t, there is a certain amount of loneliness that comes with being a whistleblower. Because you can’t discuss the case with anyone, some folks begin to second guess themselves. “Did I do the right thing?” Instead of feeling pride for becoming a whistleblower they feel shame. They worry what their friends and family will think when the case is finally unsealed.
Almost 100% of our whistleblower clients say they would do it again, however. It is easy to simply close one’s eyes and ignore fraud and greed. Whistleblowers are heroes, however, because they stand up and make a difference.
Last year the Justice Department handed out over $438 million in awards. (Our clients have received over $100 million.) There will always be fraud in society. Hopefully there will always be heroes such as Blake Percival (and his family too).
To become a whistleblower under the False Claims Act, one must have inside (“original”) knowledge of fraud involving government program or funds. Generally, only the first to file a sealed complaint in federal court is entitled to an award. If you are thinking about becoming a whistleblower, don’t wait. (See our 11 step whistleblower guide for more information.)