The Whistleblower Interview: What do you need to know?
“You are going to meet with federal government attorneys and agents.”
Those can be terrifying words to hear. But they need not be. If you are a whistleblower who has filed a case under the False Claims Act, this is your moment.
It is, in short, what you have been waiting for: a chance to share what you know with those who have the power to stop the fraud. It’s normal to be nervous, but this post will demystify the process and give you the knowledge you need to step confidently into that room.
Who (besides you) will attend this meeting? Though the number of people will vary by case, the people in the room will be in the following groups:
- Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney(s): Every filed False Claims Act qui tam lawsuit has at least two government attorneys assigned, one from the district in which you filed the case (an Assistant United States Attorney) and one from Washington, D.C. (the “Main Justice” or “Civil Fraud” attorney). Occasionally there will be other DOJ attorneys or paralegals present.
- Federal Agents: Most qui tam investigations involve federal agents, whether from the FBI, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, or one of numerous other Offices of Inspectors General. One of these agents will typically be the “notetaker.”
- Attorneys from various State Attorney General’s Offices: If your case impacts state governments (e.g., fraud against Medicaid programs), there may be one or more state government attorneys present.
- Your Lawyer: You are NOT alone! Your attorney(s) are present and there to support you. In fact, you can even ask for a break to ask your lawyer a question!
Who will NOT be there?
This is the government’s chance to speak with you – to hear what led you to file the case. As such, there will not be anyone from the “defense” side present. Also, because this is a meeting, not a court proceeding, there will not be a judge. Nor will there (most likely) be a court reporter. That said, though you may not be “sworn in” like a witness in court, you are speaking to government agents and officials. You must be truthful. It is ok if you need to go back and correct something during, or even after, the interview. In fact, this is encouraged and very important.
The relator interview typically happens within a few months of your filing the lawsuit. It can take anywhere from a few hours to a full day (or even back-to-back days), depending on the complexity of your allegations.
The relator interview used to almost always occur in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the district where the case is filed. However, following the onset of the global pandemic in 2020, the meetings have often occurred virtually through video conferencing.
What & Why
This is the government’s chance to understand the facts of the case. As such, they will ask a lot of questions. The focus is on your knowledge and perspective as the whistleblower—not on the legal theories or arguments advanced by your lawyers (there is plenty of time for that later in the investigation).
So, coming back to what I said earlier: this is an opportunity and one for which you are already prepared. This is your chance to have your case come to life for those tasked with investigating it. So, take a deep breath, stick to the facts, and speak your truth. You got this.
Erica Blachman Hitchings represents whistleblowers as a partner at the Whistleblower Law Collaborative LLC. For nine years prior, she was an Assistant United States Attorney in San Francisco and a Trial Attorney in the Civil Fraud Section of “Main Justice” in Washington, D.C. In that time, she led and worked on dozens of False Claims Act cases that recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for the United States.
Legal Disclaimer: This blog is intended as an introduction to the Relator interview and is part of TAF’s effort to explain the process of false claims act litigation. It cannot stand in for legal advice. Please, contact counsel if you are considering filing a case. If you believe you have a case, you can research and contact a whistleblower lawyer using the TAF Membership Directory.