Should I contact the FBI, even if I don't have any hard evidence?
September 22, 2014 6:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm a mid-level staff member in a multinational corporation. In the past three years, 2 employees who work in different departments from mine have been arrested and indicted for insider trading. Given this short time span and the financial stakes involved, it would not surprise me if there are others. That being said, I do not have any hard evidence. As ridiculous as it may sound, I have considered contacting the FBI about becoming an informant. However, when I was first hired, I signed a 20 page employment agreement which, amongst other things, included a confidentiality agreement. Should I just keep my mouth shut, and assume that the authorities have better methods of detecting criminal activity? Is having someone on the "inside" a moot point anyway, since so much of insider trading is uncovered by computer forensics?

I will admit that yes, my motivation partly stems from being a disgruntled employee, irritated with the unchecked arrogance, materialism and wasteful corporate spending of those who sit higher on the totem pole.

The other half is rooted in the fact that I've always had a secret fantasy of helping bring down a criminal.

Thanks to all in advance.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Maybe try to find that hard evidence before calling. They'll think you're a crank whose seen too much TV otherwise.

Your employment agreement doesn't preclude working with the law.
posted by michaelh at 7:00 AM on September 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

Well, a contract can't be used to force you to do something illegal.

And it's the SEC that handles insider trading, not the FBI.
posted by inturnaround at 7:01 AM on September 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

Honestly: you have nothing the FBI wants, and everything they DON'T want. Your hatred for your employer and enthusiasm for 'getting to do FBI shit' could very well compromise an entire investigation. If you had any actual proof, my answer would be different, but as it stands I think the FBI will realize that you are essentially fantasizing about revenge and will not want your help.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:01 AM on September 22, 2014 [30 favorites]

In fact, the SEC encourages whistleblowing. Check out their website of the Office of the Whistleblower for more information.
posted by inturnaround at 7:05 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

There is absolutely nothing good that can come out of this. You won't make money, you won't gain fame, you won't get publicity, and you won't get a better job.

There is everything bad that can come out of this. You could be found out by your current employer and be fired (which may or may not be legal, but even if it's illegal, you would have to convince a court to do anything about it), you could be found out by future employers, risking your future job prospects, or you could be sued by your current employer for libel/slander.

You should do nothing.
posted by saeculorum at 7:06 AM on September 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

No confidentiality agreement prevents reporting an actual crime.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:07 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might want to watch the smartest guys in the room if you haven't seen it. (It's on youtube).
posted by tanktop at 7:15 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

If, right now at this moment, you have evidence of wrongdoing, then report that. Don't go sneaking around for information in order to fulfill some kind of masked vigilante fantasy.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:20 AM on September 22, 2014 [17 favorites]

I would schedule a consultation with my own lawyer before doing anything else. There are a number of moving parts here.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:22 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

And yeah, echoing poffin boffin, please remember that you are NOT Veronica Mars. Don't go snooping around on your own.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:23 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Like, not that you would, but imagine the potential shitshow if you were to break the law while collecting evidence, and then you more or less go right up to law enforcement and say "HAY GUISE! JUST BROKE A WHOLE BUNCH OF LAWS LOL".
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:29 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

If two employees have been arrested and indicted for insider trading, is it not possible (or even likely) that your company is already taking this seriously and potentially working with law enforcement themselves?
posted by Nightman at 7:34 AM on September 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

In the past three years, 2 employees who work in different departments from mine have been arrested and indicted for insider trading.

Well, first of all, if this is true, the people doing their jobs to prevent insider trading are doing their job. Clearly. So, there might not need to be much in the way of unsolicited informant-ing. And heaven forbid it ever gets back to your current bosses. At a juncture like this, your efforts would be much better spent looking for work elsewhere.

I will admit that yes, my motivation partly stems from being a disgruntled employee […]

The other half is rooted in the fact that I've always had a secret fantasy of helping bring down a criminal.

These are pretty bad reasons for wanting to do this. If you have hard evidence of wrongdoing, lawyer first, then maybe you take action with the appropriate laws after talking to your lawyer about what could/should/would happen after the fact.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:36 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's not just that you lack "hard evidence." It's that you don't appear to have any evidence at all, other than the fact that two other people have been busted. Unless you have legitimate evidence, just let this one go. After all, since two arrests have already been made, it seems like the authorities are doing well enough on their own.

Don't waste your time indulging in this revenge fantasy. I think you should instead focus your energy on finding a different job since you seem to really dislike your current employers. You could even go become a police detective or a private investigator if that's what you're really interested in.
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:38 AM on September 22, 2014 [12 favorites]

I'm all for whistleblowing, but you don't seem to actually have any proof of anything, just suspicions based on past events. And if this has happened twice at your company, I think there's a good chance your company is already being watched closely. If you want to go ahead and inform them of basically nothing, go ahead but don't do anything that could compromise yourself (don't go snooping at things you don't have the authority to look at, don't use any ilegal recording information, don't try to trick people into confessions).
posted by Aranquis at 7:43 AM on September 22, 2014

You expose yourself to significant legal and financial risk. Reporting vague suspicions without hard evidence will make you seem like an angry disgruntled employee trying to get even, not a whistleblower. Whistleblowers have evidence.

Dumb idea. Just change jobs and get away from this toxic place.
posted by spitbull at 7:58 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can't speak for the SEC, but a family friend cooperated with an FBI(? federal anyway) investigation related to business practices outside her workplace. AFAIK they were happy to use her, offered her no real help at all, and chewed her up and spat her out bankrupt.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:02 AM on September 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

It seems like all the information you can give would be that two employees at your firm have been indicted for insider trading?

I assure you, the SEC, FBI, or whoever else would be concerned about that sort of thing already has heard about this.
posted by yohko at 8:24 AM on September 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

IAAL, IANYL. First: no regulator worth their salt is going to talk to you if you don't have hard evidence of anything. Regulators don't set up confidential informants in corporations - they have to be above the law and they can't risk anything that looks like entrapment or a setup.

If you did have actual evidence that a crime had occurred or was about to occur, you should use your firm's internal procedures first. That would likely include a confidential or anonymous call to a compliance or ethics officer. The SEC is unlikely to talk to you if you haven't used available internal reporting options unless you have a very very good reason (like the compliance officer is the person you suspect). Anyway, it sounds like you just want to punish your employer because you don't like management's attitude. In that case, finding evidence of insider trading is kind of a dumb way to try and do it. Insider trading is an offense that usually hits the individuals involved much harder than the firms they work for. Unless the organization is so lax that it literally did nothing to prevent the trades, it usually isn't affected very much.

Lastly, and oh my god, you need to never mention anything like this ever again unless you are talking to your own attorney. What you are doing & thinking about doing puts you at much more risk than it does anyone else. If you worked at my firm and I found out that you posted this question I would be ethically obliged to report you and you would likely lose your job. You might think about finding another job anyway, since you have so much contempt for your current firm & its management.
posted by yogalemon at 8:57 AM on September 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

TL;DR - if you know what's good for you and you're actually not involved in the legal problems, you'll put your energy into getting another job.

I have a friend who is an FBI agent. Based on stories he's told me, best outcome is they will interview you and, if you are not participating in and have no material knowledge of what's going on in this company, just suspicion that something *is* going on, they will either kick you loose or try to get you to be a CI (confidential informant,) which might take the form of "call us if you do turn something up" or might involve a request for you to turn something up for them actively (i.e. snoop). But not likely - see below.

I disagree with those who suggest they will automatically dismiss you as a crank. Unlike the movies where the federal agents all turn a blind eye to the person who is desperately trying to hand them a smoking gun, FBI guys are paid to listen to just about everyone who calls, and they will err on the side of listening and interviewing you. If they don't, it's probably because they already have so much material on the company already.

The scenario where they take someone with no material knowledge and try to make them a CI is far-fetched. Most CIs are criminals and/or are already in a situation up to their neck. There are unhappy exceptions, but most of the time LEOs, especially federal, don't really want to encourage getting amateurs more involved than they already are.

The value of coming in and talking to them is generally when you are, in fact, involved and/or have guilty knowledge of what's going on, in order to get leniency down the road, or just to ease a guilty conscience. If that's not you, you should know that the potential costs of coming in and talking to them are:

- raising suspicion (why are you coming in if you're not involved?)
- finding that the process is more drawn-out than you realized. It might not be a fun 20 minute conversation.
- your employer finding out, with obvious consequences. You may not have violated your NDA, but it will look like you have, and you'll almost definitely get fired.

As for talking to the SEC vs. FBI - the FBI has broad investigative powers and is often the first stop on federal crimes. They will happily send you to the right agency if you're not in the right place.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:09 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Everyone else has already covered the hundred reasons why this is a bad idea. But I'm kinda curious how you thought you were going to snoop on trading activity? It's not like the trading happens at the company in question.
posted by ryanrs at 9:23 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Were you aware of the two instances while they were happening? No? Why do you think you would know if/when there is some fishy business going on next time?
posted by travelwithcats at 9:40 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I worked for an insurance company, we were told that a high percentage of employee wrongdoing cases resulted from a disgruntled former boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/etc contacting the company with insider info of the sort that is not typically available to other employees. So unless you plan on being Mata Hari and sleeping with everyone in hopes of extracting information (please remember she got executed by a firing squad for her activities), I seriously doubt you can offer the FBI/SEC/whomever much of anything.

If you want to keep your eyes and ears open in hopes of getting back at your employer someday and brush up on whom to contact and how to contact them so you can quickly and efficiently report anything should you learn it, if you stay very grounded, that might be a relatively harmless way to cope with your negative feelings towards your job while you job hunt and try to get the hell out of there. If you don't stay grounded, it might be a great way to shoot yourself in the foot, find yourself tempted to dig around in things illegally because you Have A Cause, etc. So tread lightly. A goal of revenge is a bad place from which to actually find justice in the world.
posted by Michele in California at 10:42 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

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