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SEC hands out $30 million in largest-ever whistleblower award

September 22, 2014, 6:40 PM UTC
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Kyle Bean for Fortune

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced the largest-ever award to result from a whistleblower program that went into effect three years ago.

The government will fork over more than $30 million to one anonymous whistleblower who provided information that led directly to enforcement in an undisclosed securities case, the SEC said Monday. The agency is required by law to protect whistleblowers’ identities, which results in a dearth of information being released with regard to the tipsters and the frauds they help the government uncover.

“This whistleblower came to us with information about an ongoing fraud that would have been very difficult to detect,” Andrew Ceresney, director of the SEC’s enforcement division, said in an unsurprisingly cryptic statement. “This record-breaking award sends a strong message about our commitment to whistleblowers and the value they bring to law enforcement.”

The award more than doubles the previous record for a whistleblower payout, which came in the form of a $14.7 million award announced last October. That whistleblower was initially anonymous, but a recent lawsuit actually unveiled the tipster’s identity as that of Global Capital Markets Advisors principal Michael Sears. The court fight made headlines this summer as Sears’ business partner, John Tung, sued him for part of the SEC award, which Tung claimed Sears had promised to share after he provided the government with information that helped shut down a fraud involving the federal visa-for-sale program.

The SEC’s whistleblower awards generally amount to anywhere from 10% to 30% of the amount of money collected from the relevant securities case, with a possibility for future payments should the government subsequently collect even more money from a defendant. The SEC’s whistleblower order does not identify what percentage of the total collected funds that the award represents, though the order does note that the whistleblower actually challenged the size of the award by claiming that it falls short of the average percentage amount awarded by the SEC. However, the SEC notes in its order that the award might have been even higher had the whistleblower reported the violations in a more timely fashion.

The SEC also notes that Monday’s award goes to the fourth foreign whistleblower to participate in the agency’s program, which whistleblower chief Sean McKessy says “shows the international breadth” of the program. Monday’s announcement also marks the ninth whistleblower award handed out so far this year. In June, the SEC said it would give two anonymous tipsters a total of $875,000.