Sean X. McKessy

Mr. McKessy was the first Chief of the SEC Office of the Whistleblower and the principal architect of the SEC whistleblower program. Under his leadership, the whistleblower program achieved unprecedented success in record time and established itself as an aggressive advocate for whistleblowers.

As the former Chief of the Securities and Exchange Commission Office of the Whistleblower, Sean McKessy provides singular insight and unparalleled knowledge of the SEC whistleblower program in his work with clients as a partner at Phillips & Cohen.

Mr. McKessy was the first Chief of the SEC Whistleblower Office and the principal architect of the whistleblower program. He helped establish the procedures and the policies that guide the SEC whistleblower program, including how the whistleblower office assesses and reviews whistleblower tips, evaluates whistleblower award claims and makes whistleblower award recommendations to the Commission.

During his five-year tenure, he was a tireless advocate for whistleblowers and an outspoken proponent of the SEC program. He played a key role in the SEC’s efforts to protect whistleblowers using Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provisions and to punish employers that discouraged employees from reporting wrongdoing to the SEC through employment agreements and other means.

Mr. McKessy also actively encouraged whistleblowers in other countries who knew of violations of the US anti-bribery law, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, as well as other securities violations to report them to the SEC and file whistleblower claims.

Under his leadership, the SEC Whistleblower Office was authorized by the Commission to pay whistleblower awards totaling nearly $100 million – a record-setting pace for a government whistleblower reward program. The SEC recovered more than $500 million in sanctions as a result of  whistleblowers’ information and assistance during his tenure.
Sean McKessy Compliance Week Top Minds
The SEC awarded Mr. McKessy its “Law and Policy Award” in 2011 in recognition of his work implementing the whistleblower program created by the Dodd-Frank Act. In 2017, Compliance Week named him one of the 10 “Top Minds” in corporate governance, risk and compliance, calling him “The Whistleblower King.”

He has been recognized by Lawdragon as one of the “500 Leading Lawyers in America”  for 2021 and 2022 and as one of the “500 Leading Plaintiff Financial Lawyers” for the past three years. He recently won a $1.25 million award from the SEC.

In a previous stint at the SEC, he was a senior counsel in the Enforcement Division for three years.

After leaving that position, Mr. McKessy served as corporate secretary for Altria Group Inc. and AOL Inc. and as securities counsel for Caterpillar Inc. He worked on internal compliance and reporting matters related to federal securities laws for those companies.

Mr. McKessy received his law degree from the George Washington University Law School. He is admitted to the bar in Virginia, Illinois and Washington, DC.

I feel I've established that I honor the work whistleblowers do. I am hoping to convince many people who are on the fence witnessing fraud to come forward.
- Sean McKessy, in an article about joining Phillips & Cohen from the SEC, The New York Times


  • “GCs Urged to Act Before Employees Become Whistleblowers,” Legal Dive, February 23, 2024.
  • “Biden’s Documents & UBS Whistleblower,” Bloomberg Law, February 12, 2024. 

  • “JP Morgan’s Eye-Opening Penalty Signals SEC Whistleblower Focus,” Bloomberg Law, January 17, 2024.

  • “Trump Wants a Mistrial & Short Seller Tipsters,” Bloomberg Law podcast, Nov. 16, 2023.
  • “SEC proposal seeks to undo Trump-era whistleblower changes,” Compliance Week, Feb. 10, 2022.
  • “SEC looking into Apple’s use of nondisclosure agreements, whistleblower says,” The Washington Post, Feb. 9, 2022.
  • “How GCs Can Navigate A Slew Of Whistleblower Tips,” Law360, January 18, 2022.
  • “Defense Attorneys Speak Out About Grewal’s Get-Tough Tactics at the SEC,” New Jersey Law Journal, December 15, 2021.
  • “After Cracking Down on ‘Nonsense,’ SEC Whistleblower Program Has Record-Breaking Year,” Compliance Hot Spots, November 17, 2021.
  • “SEC Names Nicole Creola Kelly as Whistleblower Program Chief,” The Wall Street Journal, November 11, 2021.
  • “The case against Mark Zuckerberg: Insiders say Facebook’s CEO chose growth over safety,” The Washington Post, October 25, 2021.
  • “Why the Facebook Whistleblower Turned to the SEC, The National Law Journal, October 6, 2021.
  • “Facebook whistleblower testifies to Congress, lawyer weighs in,” NewsNation Now, October 6, 2021.
  • “A $1B Benchmark for the SEC’s Whistleblower Program,” – Compliance Hot Spots, September 29, 2021.
  • “Waiting for payout a grueling test of tenacity for whistleblowers,” Compliance Week, July 30, 2021.
  • “Blowing the whistle weighs uncertainty against moral duty,” Compliance Week, July 28, 2021.
  • “Anti-Money-Laundering Whistleblower Program Struggles to Get Off Ground,” The Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2021.
  • “Whistleblower attorney Sean McKessy on Madoff’s legacy,” CBS News Radio, April 14, 2021.
  • “Whistleblower Program for Auto Safety Has Yet to Launch, Years After Congress Mandated It,” The Wall Street Journal, April 4, 2021.
  • “Potential for Monetary Award in Anti-Money Laundering Whistleblower Program Draws Concerns,” The Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2020.
  • “SEC Gives Rare Whistleblower Bounty to Tipster With Audit Duties,” Bloomberg Law, December 14, 2020.
  • “Congress passes defense bill with big ramifications for AML, whistleblower,” Compliance Week, December 11, 2020.
  • “In House Warrior: The new Whistleblower Rules with Sean McKessy, partner at Phillips & Cohen and host Richard Levick,” In House Warrior podcast, December, 2020.
  • “‘Whopper of a Factor’: Pandemic Fueled Incoming Tips, and Clients, Whistleblower Lawyers Say,” The National Law Journal, November 20, 2020.
  • “Increased award volume breathes new life into SEC whistleblower program,” Compliance Week, October 6, 2020.
  • “Whistleblower advocates up in arms over changes to SEC program,” Compliance Week, September 23, 2020.
  • “Divided SEC approves new whistleblower award rules,” Bloomberg Law, September 23, 2020.
  • “‘A Sleight of Hand’: Whistleblower Lawyers Recoil at SEC’s New Rules,” The National Law Journal, September 23, 2020.
  • “Armed with whistleblower tips, US SEC cracks down on coronavirus misconduct,” Reuters, May 26, 2020.
  • “You’re a leader. But you can’t stomach what your company is doing,” CNN Business, January 29, 2020.
  • “Former SEC whistleblower chief warns of chilling effect of program changes,” CQ Roll Call, November 18, 2019.
  • “U.S. regulator rethinking changes to whistleblower program after backlash – sources,” Reuters, November 15, 2019.
  • “Wall Street’s watchdog wants to weaken its own whistleblower program, critics say,” Quartz, October 22, 2019.
  • “SEC must end mandatory FINRA arbitration, former agency officials say,” Financial Planning, September 12, 2019.
  • “Whistleblower challenges SEC over delay on award decision,” The Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2019.
  • “The biggest securities decisions of 2018,” Law 360, December 13, 2018.
  • “Bernie Madoff’s legacy: Whistleblower Inc.” The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2018.
  • “SEC whistleblower program has record-breaking year,” The Wall Street Journal, November 19, 2018.
  • “SEC Whistleblower Office sees jump in tips in 2018,” ThinkAdvisor, November 15, 2018.
  • “Madoff tipster has some big concerns about SEC’s whistleblower proposal,” The National Law Journal, September 18, 2018.
  • “What’s worrying the SEC’s former whistleblower chief?”, July 10, 2018.
  • “SEC wants the power to limit the size of whistleblower awards,”, July 2, 2018.
  • “SEC seeks right to cut whistleblower bounties,” The Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2018.
  • “SEC, testing power, wants more discretion to set whistleblower awards,” The National Law Journal, June 28, 2018.
  • “Trust key to keeping whistleblower complaints in-house,” Law360, May 31, 2018.
  • “Symantec tumbles on disclosure of whistleblower probe,” Reuters, May 11, 2018.
  • “High Court Ruling Threatens to Mute Internal Whistle-Blower Efforts,” FT Ignites, March 22, 2018.
  • “High Court Limits on Whistleblowers Are Mixed Bag for Companies,” Bloomberg, March 19, 2018.
  • “Whistleblower ruling adds risk for companies,” The Wall Street Journal, February 23, 2018.
  • “High court whistleblower ruling could affect internal reporting,” Business Insurance, February 22, 2018.
  • “‘the SEC has a big problem now’ after broad whistleblower protections curbed,” The National Law Journal, February 22, 2018.
  • “SCOTUS whistleblower case dodges Chevron deference showdown,” Reuters, February 21, 2018.
  • “Supreme Court deals blow to whistleblower protections,” New York Post, February 22, 2018.
  • “High Court Considers Whether Whistle-Blowers Must Report to SEC,” Society for Human Resource Management, December 5, 2017.
  • “U.S. Supreme Court to look at who should get whistleblower protections in corporate America,” NPR-affiliate KPCC’s “AirTalk”, November 28, 2017.
  • “Supreme Court to Hear Whistleblower Retaliation Case,” Insurance Journal, November 27, 2017.
  • “Wall Street may suffer with win in suit over whistleblower rules,” New York Post, November 24, 2017.
  • “U.S. Supreme Court Looks at Whistleblower Protections,” Wall Street Journal, November 22, 2017.
  • “The SEC’s Whistleblower Program in ‘Full Stride’: By the Numbers,” National Law Journal, November 2017.
  • “Whistle-Blowers Raise Penalty Costs in Financial Fraud Cases,” Agenda (An FT Service), August 2017 (Paywall).
  • “Ruling CPA Not Whistle-Blower May Have Chilling Effect: Lawyers,” BNA Securities Law Daily, July 2017.
  • “SEC Issues Whistleblower Award to Government Agency Employee for First Time,” National Law Journal, July 2017.
  • “Dodd-Frank Overhaul Could Spark Rebound in SOX Whistle-Blower Cases,” Bloomberg BNA, June 2017.
  • “Why Whistleblowers Get Paid in the U.S. but Not in Britain,” Bloomberg Businessweek, June 2017.
  • “Bill could thwart SEC efforts to catch “big fish,” warns former whistleblower chief,” Global Investigations Review (paywall).
  • “The right or wrong CHOICE for the SEC,” Commercial Dispute Resolution, May 2017.
  • “Sean X. McKessy: King of the Whistleblowers,” Compliance Week, May 2017.
  • “Australia needs incentives for whistleblowers,” Australian Financial Review, March 2017.
  • “Rothenberg Ventures is going back to the same old Rothenberg Ventures,” TechCrunch, Feburary 2017.
  • “SEC Makes Exception to ‘In Writing’ Requirement for Whistleblower Tips,” National Law Journal, January 2017.
  • “Seen Enough? Here’s how to get the SEC’s attention,” TechCrunch.
  • “Could Donald Trump’s SEC Soften Enforcement of Severance Agreements,” National Law Journal.
  • “SEC Weighs In on Ex-Vanguard Lawyer’s Whistle-Blower Case,” FT Ignites.
  • “SEC Says Companies Should Take the Hint and Not Impede Whistleblowers,” National Law Journal.
  • “The SEC Whistleblower Program’s Quiet Success,” Investopedia.
  • “Ex-SEC Whistleblower Chief Heads to Phillips & Cohen,” Law360.
  • “S.E.C. Whistle-Blower Program’s First Chief Joins Law Firm,” The New York Times.
  • “SEC’s First Whistleblower Office Leader Announces Departure as Awards Mount,” National Law Journal.
  • “Developments at the SEC and CFTC Whistleblower Offices,” – The Anti-Fraud Coalition 23rd Annual Conference, October 19, 2023
  • “Navigating the Minefield of Dodd-Frank’s Whistleblower Provisions,” Securities Docket webcast, March 2, 2023
  • Developments at the SEC & CFTC Whistleblower Offices – Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund Annual Conference, October 27, 2022
  • Whistleblower Update – The Impact on Corporations and SEC Enforcement – Securities Enforcement Forum 2021, November 4, 2021

Watch Mr. McKessy talk at the 2016 Breaking Through Power conference:

  • “SEC Review of Whistleblower Award Rules: Incentives Matter” – Bloomberg Law
  • “SEC’s Whistleblower Program: What Every Company Needs to Know” –
  • “The power of the US SEC whistleblower programme: What compliance and regulatory professionals should know” – Journal of Financial Compliance. (Subscription required.)
  • SEC’s Misguided Solution in Search of a Problem – Corporate Compliance Insights.
  • “SEC’s Misguided ‘Solution’ In Search Of A Problem: Proposed Rule Would Hurt Whistleblower Program” – NYU Law Compliance and Enforcement.
  • “Bernie Madoff’s unlikely investor contribution: whistleblowers” – Fox Business.
  • “Whistleblowers: the secret weapon for US enforcement worldwide” – Financier Worldwide.
  • Best Lawyers in America” – Best Lawyers, 2024
  • “500 Leading Lawyers in America” – Lawdragon, 2021-2024
  • “500 Leading Plaintiff Financial Lawyers” – Lawdragon, 2019-2023
  • “Top Lawyers” – Washingtonian, 2018
  • “Top Minds” – Compliance Week, 2017
  • “Attorneys Who Matter” – Ethisphere, 2016
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