Amgen Undercover Whistleblower Speaks Out

As you read through this post, please keep in mind that the off-label dosing regimen that Amgen was promoting (that we reported on this week) was unapproved and illegal because it was considered risky and likely to cost lives. An old Tower of Power lyric comes to mind: “It’s not the crime; it’s not the thought; it’s not the deed; it’s if you get caught.”

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I have a special place in my heart for the “whistleblowers” of the world —those who stand up and defy corrupt power structures. Consider this: when the DOJ only pursues about 20% of the cases that are brought to its attention, it’s reasonable to assume that it’s only interested in pursuing the most egregious and flagrant examples of bad behavior. So blow your whistle carefully.

Frankly, if your father ever told you that “life isn’t fair,” then you’re probably better prepared to handle what most whistleblowers come to discover –the hard way— and that is that knowing you’re right, proving it and then achieving some appropriate level of vindication for your trouble, is rarely how it goes. Jill Osiecki was the Amgen whistleblower. She wore a wire 13 times to build the case against her employer. Eight-years in the making, the qui tam off-label investigation relied on her courage –and resulted in the $762 million settlement. More importantly, her actions have likely changed Amgen’s corporate culture for the better –and hopefully, forever.

In Jill’s words:

Over my 25 years in the pharmaceutical business I witnessed a significant change in the industry. At Amgen I saw the culture change from “Do The Right Thing”1 into “make your numbers,” as selling became more and more important versus doing what was right. In the early years I witnessed some very good, ethical conduct, but management’s mantra began to shift to, “That’s a business decision,” or, “You’re smart, you know how to do this–just don’t get caught.” Management seemed to believe that a pile of unenforced company policies was sufficient to avoid prosecution.

The Amgen people who engaged in these criminal activities were no less mindful they were engaging in illegal behavior than muggers or bank robbers. They were smart, mature adults, who made conscious decisions to disobey the law to personally profit from highly incentivized pay, bonuses, awards, and international travel.

At the 13 sales and marketing meetings I secretly recorded over 18 months at the request of federal authorities I’d hear speakers jokingly tell participants to turn off their tape recorders, or express the hope that no one was recording their session. Those comments were always followed by uproarious laughter. I laughed too, outside and inside, knowing the wire I wore was bringing that guilty comment directly to the Government.

Over the past eight years I’ve seen how difficult and expensive it is to discover and prosecute the fraud I witnessed against the Federal Government. Without insiders who can provide a road map explaining the intricacies of a sophisticated corporate fraud, the Government may not be able to stop the illegal behavior and recover fines and penalties for taxpayers. Think of the hundreds of thousands, even millions of document files held by a large corporation. In order to prove its case the Government literally is looking for a needle in a haystack! They need an insider who knows exactly what that piece of paper looks like, what it’s called, and better yet, where a signed original copy in a date-stamped email from the responsible corporate official can be found. I was able to help do that.

In my case I reached out to special agents of the Office of Inspector General to report illegal activity as it was happening, a decision I was told that was bold and courageous. I did it to protect the public–both patients and taxpayers. But just wearing a wire, in my case, didn’t conclude my involvement. I never could have done this alone. I had tremendous support from my husband, my family, my attorneys, and a lot of prayer and meditation. The people from the Government were incredibly professional, diligent, and devoted to justice and, in my opinion, were extremely fair-minded to the defendants.

My biggest job was to show the Government the devious and clever ways that the company was able to get around the law. I just kept explaining it and providing the evidence, and eventually, the truth prevailed.Laws are unneeded against honest, legitimate sales efforts but are critically necessary when illegal tactics are so much more successful. Illegal marketing and sales schemes make impossible corporate goals achievable at the expense of competition and U.S. taxpayers.

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With an understanding that there are many great and ethical corporate leaders among us, it’s fair to point out that they wouldn’t win a tug of war against those who aren’t. The latter “type” I’m referring to are fully aware that they are playing with other people’s money, reputations, careers, etc. and the most clever among them are expert at insulating themselves from the consequences of their own actions. And until that changes –until the office they occupy is held appropriately accountable— you’re not going to see appreciable change.

I fail to comprehend why Corporate Integrity Agreements (CIAs) are not part of a default, behavioral standard imposed on the C-Suite. The DOJ prosecutes, fines and only then, slaps the repeat offenders with CIAs. Why not humor us cynics who loathe listening to leaders “accept full responsibility?” Why not allow CIAs to define what “full responsibility” actually means? If we did, we would see a different class of executive rise.

—Tom Finn

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