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 Phillips & Cohen clients.

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


  • “High Court Considers Whether Whistle-Blowers Must Report to SEC” – Society for Human Resource Management
  • “U.S. Supreme Court to look at who should get whistleblower protections in corporate America” – NPR-affiliate KPCC’s “AirTalk”
  • “Supreme Court to Hear Whistleblower Retaliation Case” – Insurance Journal
  • “Wall Street may suffer with win in suit over whistleblower rules” – New York Post
  • “U.S. Supreme Court Looks at Whistleblower Protections” – Wall Street Journal
  • “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
  • 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 – November 2017
  • Whistleblowers: The Fact, The Fiction, and the Space In Between – Compliance Week 2017 – May 2017
  • The US Whistleblower Program and Its Impact on Asia – 2nd Risk Management & Security Asia Summit – May 2017
  • Whistleblower Update – Securities Enforcement Forum West – May 2017
  • The Regulators (FBI, NFA, SEC and More)…What’s on their agenda? – Global Alternative Investment Management Cayman Conference – 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 – Feb. 2017
  • Speaker at Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute’s Risk, Ethics & Compliance Forum – Nov. 2016
  • Blowing the Whistle on Securities Fraud – Breaking Through Power – Sept. 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:

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