The IRS mailed the accountant's lawyer a $3.24 million check that arrived in suburban Philadelphia by first-class mail Thursday. The sum represents the award minus a 28 percent tax hit.
The lawyer, Eric L. Young of Blue Bell, won't identify his client or the firm because his client remains a small-town accountant and hopes to continue to work in his field.
"It's a win-win for both the government and taxpayers. These are dollars that are being returned to the Treasury that otherwise wouldn't be," Young said.
"It's very difficult to be a whistleblower," said Young, who has represented more than a dozen such tipsters, including one in a $2 billion Pfizer case involving off-label drug marketing.
"Most people would be inclined to turn a blind eye to it. The process can be time-consuming, arduous and stressful, from both a personal and professional standpoint," he said.
The accountant filed a complaint with the IRS in 2007, just as the IRS Whistleblower Office opened, but heard nothing for two years. Frustrated, he hired Young to help push the issue.
"We were able to help him get it back on track," Young said.
In the accountant's case, the IRS did not deem the issues he raised complex. But the agency said the information he shared pointed out new questions for a routine IRS audit that was already under way.
The Whistleblower Office received nearly 1,000 tips involving more than 3,000 taxpayers in fiscal years 2008 and 2009, according to its annual reports to Congress. Hundreds of them alleged tax underpayments of more than $10 million, and dozens more underpayments of $100 million or more.
The accountant's case is the first in the program to reach fruition.
"Quite frankly, I'm shocked that they finally got around to using it," said Grassley. He has been discouraged by the program's slow start, which some blame on ambivalence about whether tipsters should receive potentially huge windfalls. The IRS may also fear embarrassment, the senator said.
"When you got a whistleblower that's saying somebody didn't pay $20 million in taxes, that's an embarrassment to the full-time employees of the IRS," he said.
Neither Stephen Whitlock, director of the Whistleblower Office, nor the agency's public affairs office returned messages about the program.