An Olympic Event
The phone on my desk rang at precisely 4:43 P.M. on June 25, 1996. “Hello, this is John,” I said. “John. It's Peter. Your case was filed at 4:05 P.M., in the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division” (Civil Action 96–1264-CIV-T-23B).
I sighed with relief. The cumulative stress of discovering the fraud and my struggle to expose it had been immense. But once the decision had been made, there was no turning back. Now, two years later, my life as a whistleblower had just begun. I could not have known that my ordeal would last another seven years or become such an Olympian task.
Just as Mary Louise Cohen had explained to me during our first telephone conversation back in February 1995, all qui tam cases, including mine, are filed “under seal” (without public access) in civil court. The “seal” allows the Justice Department ample time to investigate the allegations before they become publicly known. The U.S. attorney general, who heads the Justice Department, certainly does not personally investigate cases, but U.S. Attorneys in ninety-three districts oversee both the civil and criminal divisions of their offices, typically charging Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSAs) to pursue those investigations and subsequent litigation.
Historically, civil AUSAs were not as polished as their counterparts on the criminal side of the bench. While most civil cases that are not dismissed end with a settlement, more criminal cases are actually argued in court. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the investigative arm