Is the whistleblower motivated by a sincere desire to expose wrongdoing and see justice done, or is he merely a disgruntled ex-employee or dissatisfied former customer seeking revenge for some imagined slight or inconvenience? Is he an attention-craving wretch trying to secure his 15 minutes of fame, or a calculating crusader trying to profit from counterfeit controversy?
If Illinois had a state championship for whistle-blowing, the award would have to go to Chicago attorney Stephen B. Diamond.
Taking advantage of the Illinois False Claims Act (IFCA), Diamond has filed hundreds of whistleblower lawsuits against Illinois businesses, accusing them of failing to collect state taxes properly. Nearly all of the IFCA suits filed have been filed by Diamond.
The False Claims Act empowers private citizens to bring action on behalf of the state against anyone suspected of defrauding the government and allows the plaintiffs to receive as much as 30 percent of the monies recovered.
What motivates Diamond? Is he a zealous protector of our state's legitimate revenue sources, or a money-grubbing attorney looking for an easy target?
Critics say Diamond finds mistakes in shipping and handling tax collection and uses the whistleblower statutes to force a settlement, which ultimately ends up in a big payday for himself. The scheme works because the cost of litigating these lawsuits often far exceeds the cost of settling, and small businesses do not have the resources to defend themselves.
So they pay Diamond off to go away, critics say.
Suits like Diamond's only add to Illinois’ already bad reputation when it comes to business. The False Claims Act was not intended to be a weapon against retailers for inadvertent mistakes and errors.
Maybe it's time we stopped letting this horn-tooter masquerade as a whistleblower?