Last week, it was revealed that Prosecutors say that a former government lawyer named Jeffrey Wertkin tried to sell a whistleblower’s sealed, confidential lawsuit against a Silicon Valley company, for $310,000. He wore a wig to try to disguise him but the man Wertkin was selling to was actually an FBI undercover agent. Wertkin, 40, worked a coveted job at the Justice Department in 2010 focusing on cases related to health-care. He remained there until April 2016, when he left for a job at Akin Gump in Washington. His government pay was about $150,000 per year. At Akin Gump, where Wertkin defended companies sued under the whistle-blower law, attorneys with his background earn as much as $600,000 or more. According to press reports quoting inside sources, FBI agents may be questioning Justice Department Trial Lawyers to try to determine where the leaked Complaint came from. If that is the case, this investigation comes at a time when a new Attorney General has just stepped into position at DOJ. It is not clear as to whether Wertkin will cooperate with the Government investigation in order to receive a more lenient sentence. If so, his source could be revealed in a shorter amount of time.
This is a highly unusual case. Wertkin was a senior level trial attorney at line Justice. He tried a case claiming that hospice chain Aseracare Inc. falsely certified patient eligibility for Medicare funding. The case is on appeal after a judge overturned a verdict for the government. He also handled a case alleging Pharmerica Corp. submitted false claims to Medicare for improperly dispensed drugs, which ended in a $31.5 million settlement, and a suit against Medco Health Solutions Inc. over kickback allegations. That settled for $7.9 million. Justice Department lawyers specializing in False Claims Act cases conduct investigations in secret after whistle-blowers file a lawsuit accusing companies of defrauding the government. Cases are filed under “seal” to give the government time to investigate. Legally, that suit may not be revealed to anyone outside the government. Companies usually don’t learn about a suit until the government nears the end of its probe.
Mr. Wertkin was arraigned last week on a charge of criminal contempt of court and was released on $750,000 bond. Mr. Wertkin, 40, had recently joined Akin Gump in April after six years as a trial lawyer at the Justice Department. The plan was for him to take a prominent role handling cases for corporate clients.
At the Justice Department, Mr. Wertkin had prosecuted pharmaceutical companies, managed-care plans and pharmacy benefit managers as well as hospitals and hospice companies, specializing in cases of Medicare fraud under the False Claim Act, a law the government uses to pursue companies and people for defrauding government programs.
According to court documents, a week after Thanksgiving, when Mr. Wertkin left a voice message for a “high ranking” employee of a Sunnyvale, Calif., company, which was not identified but was described as providing “technology security.” Wertkin earned a bachelor’s degree from Haverford College,and a law degree and Ph.D in government from Georgetown University.
Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers involving Medicare fraud.