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Dear media: Chuck Blazer is not a whistleblower

Yesterday FIFA’s ethics committee announced that Chuck Blazer, a cooperating witness in the DOJ’s massive FIFA-related corruption prosecution, has been banned from football for life. In announcing this development, many media outlets have described Blazer as a “FIFA whistleblower.”

Let’s be clear about one thing: Chuck Blazer is not a whistleblower. And more importantly, the media’s haphazard use of this term to describe Blazer is a disservice to the brave individuals that may legitimately be deemed “whistleblowers.”

Chuck Blazer never decided to “blow the whistle” on FIFA. He didn’t voluntarily approach the government or media about the corrupt activities of his former colleagues. He didn’t make an affirmative decision to jeopardize his livelihood and reputation by exposing wrongs in the football industry.

The government had him over a barrel. He only turned his back on FIFA when he had no other options. Chuck Blazer is not a whistleblower. He is a cooperating witness.  

The New York Daily News has described the circumstances that prompted Blazer’s “cooperation”

Blazer’s career as a federal undercover [witness] began on a November evening in 2011. The morbidly obese businessman was zipping along Fifth Ave. to a pricey Manhattan restaurant aboard one of his motorized scooters — a typical night on the town for Blazer, a regular at coveted Table 4 in Elaine’s, the since-shuttered Upper East Side celebrity and media hangout.

Trailing the big man were federal agents — one from the FBI and the other from the IRS. They were pursuing Blazer “like hit men,” an associate of the soccer big-wig would later say.

“We can take you away in handcuffs now — or you can cooperate,” one of the agents allegedly told Blazer.

Their leverage: More than a decade of unpaid taxes on his multimillion-dollar income. Using forensic accounting techniques, investigators working on a 2013 integrity report commissioned by CONCACAF had mapped out two decades of financial chicanery Blazer used to keep his income off the books.

Not exactly the next Jeffrey Wiggand.

Should we be happy that Blazer ratted out his former compatriots? Yes — it is clear that he is critical to the government’s case against FIFA’s longstanding and brazen corruption issues. But calling him a whistleblower? That makes a mockery of the entire institution.  


Jessica Tillipman is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and Assistant Dean at The George Washington Univeristy Law School. You can follow her on Twitter at @jtillipman.

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  1. Thank you Professor Tillipman for drawing the distinction and hopefully eliminating any confusion. As the New York Times stated in an article from yesterday, "Chuck Blazer, Ex-FIFA Official, Is Banned for Life From Soccer, " by Dan Bilefsky "Mr. Blazer, 70, a larger-than-life soccer power broker turned whistle-blower, pleaded guilty in November 2013 to a 10-count charge including racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering and tax evasion as part of an investigation into corruption in international soccer by American law enforcement authorities." While I am sure the reporter was well meaning, this depiction is totally misleading, and as we (I) know very well, the decision to whistleblow is entirely different, and could not be more distinct, from the decision to cooperate. While both might be a decision of "last resort," the decision tree, so to speak, is usually from opposite perspectives.

  2. All excellent points, Professor Tillipman. In the FIFA case, investigators successfully used the same methods and tactics that have worked for years in mafia-style organized crime cases, selecting a weak link with significant criminal exposure and offering him an opportunity to cooperate and speak truthfully, in exchange for some potential benefit. Not surprising since FIFA was essentially operating as a criminal enterprise. "Snitch" would be a much more appropriate term than "whistleblower" for Blazer.

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