Richard Levine, veteran Securities and Exchange Commission associate counsel, is joining Labaton Sucharow as a partner in the firm’s whistleblower representation practice.
Levine helped start the SEC whistleblower program in 2011, which has recovered some $1.5 billion from enforcement actions and awarded around $320 million to nearly 60 whistleblowers.
Levine, whose title was associate general counsel for legal policy at the SEC, is now part of Labaton’s program that helps whistleblowers report possible securities violations anonymously.
Levine, who retired from the SEC in 2016, said in a phone interview that joining the plaintiffs’ litigation firm was “the opportunity to continue to work on behalf of investors by representing whistleblowers who courageously report wrongdoing to the SEC.”
Levine is joining Jordan A. Thomas, who also was part of the team that founded the SEC whistleblower program, which was established following the agency’s failure to follow up on warnings about the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme.
After Thomas left, he built a law practice focused on representing whistleblowers.
Earlier this year, the SEC said that three Labaton clients would be awarded $83 million for reporting wrongdoing by Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit. Merrill had paid $415 million to settle the case in June 2016.
The company had been accused of executing complex options trades that violated SEC consumer protection rules.
The SEC award last March to Labaton clients was the largest in the seven-year history of the SEC whistleblower program.
Labaton’s track record of aiding whistleblowers also includes an $8.8 million award to a client in a New York tax fraud case last year.
Thomas said Levine would be a valuable addition to Labaton’s practice, which in addition to SEC whistleblowing cases, also handles securities and criminal prosecutions and private securities cases.
“Nobody knows the securities laws, national enforcement program, and key players better than Rich,” said Thomas. “He is uniquely qualified to provide straight talk to senior executives and other wary whistleblowers about the realities of being an SEC whistleblower and what it really takes to be successful.”
Over the past seven years since Thomas left the SEC, Labaton has been growing its practice, adding several SEC veterans to its bench. The Manhattan-based practice has racked up several successes, including the Merrill Lynch case.
It also negotiated the first deal for a SEC whistleblower to receive criminal immunity and, in another case, for the first SEC whistleblower to receive an award because of retaliation for reporting wrongdoing.
Levine will help the law practice field a number of whistleblower cases Labaton is handling, including some 30 cases that are active with the SEC. Tipsters who flag securities violations may do so anonymously if they have a lawyer.
Awards can range from 10 percent to 30 percent of the penalty paid by wrongdoers. Law firms typically represent whistleblowers on a contingency fee basis, which is usually about one-third of the award.
Thomas sees no slow-down in cases, noting a 2015 survey Labaton Sucharow did together with University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business that found that unethical behavior persists in the U.S. and British markets despite the 2008 economic meltdown.
The report, for example, found a widespread belief that unethical or illegal behavior persists. Some 20 percent of those responding feel financial services professionals must sometimes engage in illegal or unethical activity to be successful.
Nearly 90 percent of respondents said they would report misconduct under the SEC’s whistleblower program, according to the survey, but more than one-third were not aware of it.
“The best model is to bring in experienced SEC and DOJ prosecutors to represent whistleblowers so they can bring wrongdoing into the open,” said Thomas of Labaton’s model. That includes Levine, who will be reviewing and taking part in representing whistleblowers.
Levine spent most of his career working in the SEC’s Office of the General Counsel, where he was responsible for providing legal and policy advice to SEC commissioners and senior staff on a variety of enforcement matters. Before joining the SEC, he practiced commercial litigation at Cahill Gordon & Reindel.
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