Friday, October 01, 2010

Lies, Money and Monsieur X

Today I'm pleased to host this guest post from fellow suspense author Rick AckerRick is a Deputy Attorney General in the California Department of Justice. His unit prosecutes corporate fraud lawsuits of the type described in his brand-new release, When the Devil Whistles. He has led confidential investigations into a number of large and sensitive cases that made headlines in and out of California. Rick holds law degrees from the University of Oslo and the University of Notre Dame, where he graduated with honors. In addition to his novels, he is a contributing author on two legal treatises published by the American Bar Association. Rick lives with his wife and four children in the San Francisco area.  

Take it away, Rick.
“Is that really true—or did you make it up for your book?”

I get some version of that question every time one of my suspense novels comes out: Is it really possible that there’s an Ebola-smallpox hybrid virus that could kill millions? Did berserkers really walk the forests of ancient Norway? Is there really a secret network of free-lance corporate spies who make millions uncovering fraud in government contracts?

Yes, yes and yes. I put as little fiction as possible into my novels. The truth is always better than anything I could make up.

My new book, When the Devil Whistles, is no exception. It takes place in the very real world of bounty-hunting whistleblowers who can make fortunes by catching corporations who get money by lying to the government.

Want a quick tour of that world? Keep reading.

It’s not always a safe or pleasant place to live, but it has its benefits. It’s inhabited by whistleblowers, their lawyers, and the hard-knuckled companies they sue. They’re all players in complex cat-and-mouse games in and out of the courtroom, and the stakes are high. If the whistleblower wins, the prize is a percentage of whatever the government recovers in a fraud prosecution—which can run to billions of dollars. If the whistleblower loses . . . well, we all know what happens when a mouse loses a game with a cat.

Allie Whitman, the whistleblower heroine of When the Devil Whistles, sues dirty companies under a real law. It’s called the False Claims Act, and it’s one of Congress’s most brilliant achievements (I know, that’s not saying much). Here’s how it works: Anyone who discovers that a company has lied to the government and gotten money as a result can file a lawsuit on behalf of the government. The company then has to pay triple what it stole, plus penalties of up to $10,000 for each lie. The whistleblower gets to keep between 15% and 50% of the proceeds of the lawsuit, plus attorney fees.

Whistleblowers usually want to keep their identities secret to avoid retaliation by the companies they sue. So, like Allie, they often form shell corporations to file suits on their behalf. As Allie discovers, sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Here’s a real life story from Allie’s world: The very first false claims case I worked on was brought by a Frenchman known only as “Monsieur X,” who used a shell company called RoNo to protect his identity. He sued one of the biggest, most politically-connected, and dirtiest banks in France, alleging that the bank had ripped off California taxpayers to the tune of $3 billion. Telling American authorities about wrongdoing by a French company is a crime in France (yes, really), so Monsieur X was one of the most wanted men in France.
Monsieur X was able to hide behind his shell company. For a while. Then someone broke into his lawyer’s office. His car was next. And then he began to suspect that his phone had been tapped. Finally, he took his family and fled the country.

But don’t feel too sorry for Monsieur X. He’s alive, free and living happily in Switzerland. And he collected a bounty of over $50 million when the case ended.

As for Allie, you’ll have to read When the Devil Whistles to find out what happened to her. :-)

When the Devil Whistles on Amazon, paperback ($10.11)
On the Kindle ($9.99)
Paperback on ($11.99)
Barnes and Nobel, paperback ($10.11)


Richard Mabry said...

Rick, thanks for the glance inside the area of "whistle-blowing." I can hardly wait to get my hands on your book.

Nicole said...

What Richard said.

PatriciaW said...

I like to think that some of what I read informs me about slices of society that I know nothing about. Thus, I really enjoy books like When the Devil Whistles, even more so when the author acknowledges the high degree of reality.

To varying degree, isn't all fiction based in truth?