September 28, 2015 — Upon retaining a qui tam attorney and filing a case under seal, the Assistant United States Attorney assigned to investigate the case may contact the qui tam attorney on the record to schedule an in person interview with the relator (also known as a whistleblower). This occurs in a majority of cases that hold merit. The relator interview is one of the first steps undertaken during the investigation. It is the whistleblower’s opportunity to discuss the wrongful conduct.
Generally, the relator will be there along with the relator’s attorney(s). In addition, there will be several individuals from government agencies involved in the investigation. This includes the assistant U.S. Attorney leading the investigation, and any of her colleagues, any attorneys from the state attorney general’s office if the case involves state claims, any paralegals, federal agents, among others. It is not uncommon for the room to be filled.
Who does not attend?
At this stage of the investigation, the defendant is not yet aware of the case, and as such, there will not be anyone present affiliated with the company or individuals whom the whistleblower is alleging is responsible for the wrongful conduct.
How long is the interview?
There is no set time period within which the government must complete the interview. The span of time generally depends on the depth of the allegations. It is a good idea to dedicate the full day to the interview to be on the safe side.
What can a relator do to prepare for the interview?
Generally, it is wise to review the disclosure statement and exhibits along with the complaint filed in court. If there are additional documents that were not included in the disclosure statement, reviewing those documents may be helpful as well. There is also an expectation that the relator will be able to sufficiently and specifically provide details about the fraudulent scheme.
What can the relator expect?
Because this is not an adversarial setting, the relator can rest at ease to the extent that the government is on the same side as the relator. This does not mean that the government agents and attorneys are going to be friendly. It is always best to keep the dialogue and atmosphere formal.
This article was contributed by Louisa Kirakosian, a qui tam attorney at Waters & Kraus, in the firm’s Los Angeles office. She represents whistleblowers who have uncovered fraud against the government in the pharmaceutical, Medicare/Medicaid, and government contracting industries.