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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Tour Recap: Financial Whistleblowers Featured at Annual Stop at Florida International University

Alison Glick, March 06, 2013

winston_eric_fiuMichael Winston and Eric Ben-Artzi (Photo Courtesy of FIU College of Business Administration)For the second time this academic year, GAP's American Whistleblower Tour was invited back to a school for a repeat performance based on the success of last year’s visit. Florida International University (FIU) once again hosted a two-day event starting on Feb. 7.

GAP President Louis Clark hosted the event and was joined by two financial whistleblowers who disclosed serious fraud: Michael Winston, who was retaliated against after refusing to validate a fraudulent report about mortgage loan giant Countrywide’s corporate governance plans and policies; and Eric Ben-Artzi, who experienced reprisal and ultimately termination after disclosing internally (and to the SEC) evidence of Deutsche Bank hiding as much as $12 billion in losses from investors.

Watch video of the full presentation and see photos from the main event.

In a powerful presentation detailing Countrywide’s approach to granting mortgages to virtually every individual ­– regardless of income or assets – who applied for one, Michael summed up the lenders’ process this way: “If they [applicants] could fog a mirror, they qualified.” This explained the vanity plates he saw on one car in the company parking lot: “Fund ‘em.” After questioning these practices, refusing to present a false report on management and succession planning to the credit rating agency Moody’s, and reporting worker safety concerns to state officials after he and several of his employees were sickened by an unknown substance while working in their building, the hammer came down on Winston. Suddenly, his responsibilities and status in the organization were severely curtailed, and after Bank of America took over Countrywide, he was fired.

In his first public appearance since being fired and filing an SEC whistleblower complaint, Ben-Artzi expertly led the audience through the machinations and manipulation deployed by Deutsche Bank to hide its billions in bad investments. Ben-Artzi relayed a theme many other whistleblowers have echoed, when he told the audience he initially thought that bringing the “error” to management’s attention was doing his job well; he quickly learned that his bosses thought differently.

Over the course of the two days, Ben-Artzi and Winston spoke about their whistleblowing in the financial sector to both business students and those from the general student body in a media literacy course. In addition, Ben-Artzi talked to a group of senior audit and comptroller professionals from the university. The faculty sponsor of both this and last year’s events was Professor of Journalism, Dr. Fred Blevens. In addition to being a dedicated Tour sponsor, Dr. Blevens is an active member of GAP’s Faculty Committee, which is developing a cross-disciplinary curriculum on whistleblowing.

One student comment summed up what many in the audience, and certainly we at GAP, believe: “The truth is always the best and most powerful weapon.”


Alison Glick is Education Coordinator for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leadingwhistleblower protection and advocacy organization.