Monday, July 23, 2007

Whistleblower Hell vs. Whistleblower Heaven

Peter Rost's Rock Group, "The Pharma Spies," dedicated the song "Whistleblower Hell" to Novartis whistleblower Mr. David Olagunu. The lyrics are:

I knew it was illegal,
that they were clearly wrong.
I was feeling kind of worried,
but my conscience made me strong.
The company got nasty,
when I told them what I'd found.
then they called out all their thugs and goons,
and beat me to the ground.

And so I woke up in the gutter,
for being honest with myself,
because the company just sent me,
into whistleblower hell.

They said that it was treason,
As they showed me the door
now I'm sleeping near a dumpster,
cause the beatings left me poor.
My wife and children ditched me,
and I'll never work at all.
My murder will come it's plain to see,
but I'd do it all again.

And so I woke up in the gutter,
for being honest with myself,
because the company has sent me,
into whistleblower hell.
A dire picture indeed, if true. Mr. David Olagunu could be walking the streets right now, but someday he may end up in Whistleblower Heaven, which I imagine looks something like the photo on the right in the above composite.

Just to add some fuel to Rost's Hell fire, I asked if anyone collected statistics on the fate of whistleblowers; how many went bankrupt, how many are unemployed and destitute, how many are fairly well off thank you ...that sort of thing.

A quick search on Google yielded some qui tam case statistics from the Department of Justice.

From 1987 through 2006, there were 5,514 qui tam cases filed. Let's assume each involved one whistleblower. A total of $11,062,851,302 was awarded and these 5,514 whistleblowers' shared $1,799,444,848 of that, which works out to $326,341 per whistleblower.

That's not a lot considering some whistleblowers at the VP level in pharma companies may have taken home a yearly salary of $750,000, which is substantially more than they are likely to get from qui tam cases. This, of course, does not involve civil cases (eg, wrongful termination, etc.) that whistleblowers may also file against their former employers.

But and AVERAGE of $326K per whistleblower is not chopped liver either! No need to sleep in the gutter with that nest egg! Invested correctly (see Whistleblowing for Dummies for help on that), this could yield you a comfortable retirement income when combined with your 401K, stock options, civil case proceeds (if any), and retirement plan.

Given that, I suspect you'd find more whistleblowers in heaven than in hell.

Whistleblower 419 Scam?

NOTE: Pharma Giles and I have been having a discussion on whistleblowing in comments made to a previous post. I thought I'd reproduce that here:

Pharma Giles said...
Like all the best spoofs, there's an element of truth here.

But it is very naughty of you indeed to suggest for one minute that all whistleblowers are just disgruntled losers who are out for revenge! I think that's only true in the majority of cases.

But whatever a whsitleblower's motivation, it surely cannot be a bad thing to shine a bright light into the murkier recesses of pharma? You make it sound wrong.

Would you rather just have folk meekly bending over and taking the rough end of the proverbial pineapple, rather than making their soon-to-be-ex-masters as uncomfortable as they can?

Dr. Rost flourishes by dint of his wit(s). I look forward to his response to this provacative example of yours.

Forward With The Yobbosphere!!!
John Mack said...
I admit that I am a bit queasy about whistleblowers. Primarily because they are not disinterested parties and often have a hidden agenda: cashing in!

Secondarily, there seems to be quite an industry sprouting up around whistleblowers, especially a legal industry. Who knows how many whistleblowers are enticed by legal eagles to come forward with the scantiest of evidence? When the evidence doesn't pan out, it is often the whistleblower that is left in the dust.

Let's not forget that Peter Rost is the exception that proves the rule. I doubt if many whistleblowers are as resourceful and skilled as Rost, especially not those who put their faith in God!

Thirdly, and maybe most importantly, very few whistleblower cases actually help the industry see the errors of its ways and change. Sure, we get a look at murky recesses, but management circles the wagons ever more tightly and continues along their merry way more stealthily than ever. Where's the fix? Fines are paid and lawyers and whistleblowers divvy up the proceeds with the US Treasury. End of story!

Also, is it just me or are we getting overloaded with whistleblower stories? Wolf! Wolf! Wolf!
Pharma Giles said...
Perhaps the reason we are getting "overloaded" is that with the rise of blogs such as Dr. Rost's or Ed Silverman's, whistleblowers now have somewhere to turn in the event of corporate intimidation.

The alleged treatment of Mr Olagunju at Novartis is a carbon copy of events I have personally seen happen to others who speak out.

One wonders if there is a standard HR protocol to humiliate and harass honest and ethical employees into resigning.

In this instance (and having read his case statement) I feel sure that Mr. Olagunju is not looking to "cash in". He is simply looking for justice, both for himself and for the public who deserve to be protected from a drug whose harmful side effects may (if proven in court) have been buried for commercial advantage.

He should be admired, not derided. I am not, of course, saying that you are doing the latter, but if you aren't then your timing is pretty bad.

As always, there is merit in what you say regarding some whistles that have gone "peep" recently (did anyone really get seriously worked up about bloody cupcakes, for example?), but I really think you may have picked the wrong time or the wrong case to make your point.

But it is a jolly good spoof, right or wrong. It's good to see people reaching for the gigglestick rather than the boring old bludgeon of point/counterpoint...
John Mack said...
As far as I am concerned,we are not privy to all the facts in any ongoing whistleblower case. We are only hearing details from one side -- the whistleblower, who, of course, always makes himself out to be a martyr.

So, I cannot be certain whether any whistleblower deserves my admiration or not.

That being said, it would be better if companies embraced people who go through proper channels to point out problems. But human nature being the way it is, these people are always going to be treated harshly by their peers who will use any means possible to protect themselves.

I don't envy the position most potential whistleblowers are in. I can see how they are pressured NOT to act until the endgame of their careers arrive. Surely, it is a career-ending move.

For every whistleblower there are probably ten people who just quit and change careers. Some have written books about their experience, which is often more effective than whistleblowing in terms of bringing these issues to light but less effective at providing a profit.

I can't control the timing of my remarks, which I make when the issue has reached a boiling point within me and I can no longer contain it. The timing certainly has no bearing on any particular whistleblower, although I have to admit that in Mr. Olagunju's case, it is difficult not to overlook his remarks about "the Lord".

Rost notes that Mr. Olagunju ends his e-mails with "The Lord is good unto them that wait upon Him. Wait upon the Lord! God bless you."

Isn't this what we see in every 419 scam email originating from Nigeria? As in:

"Remain blessed in the name of the Lord.

"Yours in Christ,

I've got to wonder if Mr. Olagunju is on some "mission from God" -- a funny line in the Blues Brothers movie, but a bit scary in the real world as we all know!

It seems that this particular case is now hurting Novartis' bottom line and may be delaying the approval of a new drug, which is fine if the allegations are true.

The day may come, however, when a scam artist-drug company short seller will fabricate a whistleblower case out of thin air. And, like Mr. Olagunju's case, it may start with a posting to Cafepharma and be picked by Rost. I am glad, therefore, that Rost followed my advice and my lead -- I sent him a phone number for Mr. Olagunju -- made some calls, checked sources and found real people and real facts.

Others in the blogosphere may not be so diligent in the future

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