Sean X. McKessy

Mr. McKessy was the first Chief of the SEC Office of the Whistleblower. Under his leadership, the SEC whistleblower program achieved unprecedented success in record time, with more than $504 million in recoveries and more than $85 million paid in whistleblower awards.

As the former Chief of the Securities and Exchange Commission Whistleblower Office, 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 helped establish the processes the office follows and the policies that guide the SEC whistleblower program. His office assessed and reviewed whistleblower tips, evaluated whistleblower award claims and made 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 the whistleblowers’ information and assistance.
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.”

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


  • “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.
  • Whistleblower Update – The Impact on Corporations and SEC Enforcement – Securities Docket – May 2020
  • Navigating the Minefield of Dodd-Frank’s Whistleblower Provisions (2019 Update) – Securities Docket – January 2020
  • Crisis Management – Forum on White-Collar Crime and Regulatory Enforcement – November 2019.
  • Whistleblower Update: The Impact on Corporations and SEC Enforcement – Securities Enforcement Forum – October 2019
  • Blowing the Whistle on Financial Fraud: Investigating Claims of White-Collar Criminal Activity –  The Legal Executive Institute’s 3rd Annual Corporate Risk, Ethics & Compliance Forum – September 2019
  • Encouraging a Speak-Up Culture: Communication Across Multiple Jurisdictions – Compliance Week 2019 – May 2019
  • The SEC Whistleblower Program: A Retrospective and Where to Go From Here – Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association Compliance & Legal Annual Seminar – March 2019
  • Navigating the Minefield of Dodd-Frank’s Whistleblower Provisions – Securities Docket – January 2019
  • Moderator: Best Practices for SEC Whistleblowers – Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund Annual Conference 2018 – Washington, DC, October 2018
  • Whistleblower Developments and Current Best Practices – 5th Annual Government Enforcement Institute – Dallas, September 2018
  • European Sympoisum Ethics and Governance – Organisation for EconomicCo-operation and Development (OECD) – Paris, FR, March 2018
  • Moderator: Getting Ahead of the Curve: Forecasting SEC and CFTC Enforcement and Whistleblowing under the New Administration – Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund Annual Conference 2017 – Washington, DC, November 2017
  • Whistleblowers: The Fact, The Fiction, and the Space In Between – Compliance Week 2017 – Washington, DC, May 2017
  • The US Whistleblower Program and Its Impact on Asia – 2nd Risk Management & Security Asia Summit – Hong Kong, May 2017
  • Whistleblower Update – Securities Enforcement Forum West – Palo Alto, May 2017
  • The Regulators (FBI, NFA, SEC and More) … What’s on their agenda? – Global Alternative Investment Management Cayman Conference – Cayman Islands, April 2017
  • Whistleblowers: What Companies Should Be Doing Now – The Corporate Counsel – April 2017
  • Modern Whistleblower Retaliation Law and the SEC –  Bloomberg BNA – March 2017

  • Compliance Week and Financial Research Associates In-Depth Conversation on Whistleblowers & Compliance: Protecting Your Organization from a Potential Report – February 2017
  • Speaker at Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute’s Risk, Ethics & Compliance Forum – Nov. 2016
  • Blowing the Whistle on Securities Fraud – Breaking Through Power – Washington, DC, September. 2016
  • Webcast: Navigating the Minefield of Dodd-Frank’s Whistleblower Provisions and the FCPA – Jan. 2016

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

  • “500 Leading Plaintiff Financial Lawyers” – Lawdragon – 2019
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