The Guardian reports:
Five years ago Robert Emmel was enjoying the American dream. He lived in a detached house in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia, drove a BMW, and earned $140,000 a year as an accounts director in a highly successful advertising company called News America Marketing.
Today, Emmel is described by his lawyers as destitute. Jobless and in debt, he was discharged from bankruptcy last year. He does occasional consultancy work that last month brought in $500, and this month, court documents show, will probably produce nothing. His wife’s earnings raise monthly household income to about $3,000 – half their outgoings.
This is a cautionary tale about what can happen to someone who dares to become a corporate whistleblower. Or, more specifically, someone who incurs the wrath of News Corporation, the media empire owned by Rupert Murdoch, of which News America forms a part.
Emmel’s lawyer, Philip Hilder, has had a ringside seat at the gradual unravelling of his client’s life. A former federal prosecutor based in Houston, Texas, Hilder is well versed in whistleblower cases having represented Sherron Watkins, who helped uncover the Enron scandal. Hilder said: “News America has engaged in Rambo litigation tactics. They have a scorched earth policy, and it’s taken a huge toll on him.”
News Corp has devoted the efforts of up to 29 lawyers to pursuing Emmel personally, at a cost estimated at more than $2m. Emmel, by contrast, has relied on two lawyers, Hilder and Marc Garber in Atlanta, working for no pay since January 2009.
Attention has been focused on News Corporation’s activities in the UK, where the News of the World phone-hacking scandal has led to the arrest of 10 people associated with the company. In the US, oversight of News Corp is gathering pace with the department of justice and the FBI looking into the company, while senators are considering launching committee hearings into News Corp practices.
One incident that US investigators are exploring is the hacking of a website run by one of News America’s rivals, an instore advertising business called Floorgraphics. The firm discovered that its password-protected site had been breached from an IP address at News America’s offices in Connecticut. News America has condemned the breach as a “violation of the standards of our company” but says it does not know how it happened.
Emmel was one of the main witnesses for Floorgraphics at a subsequent trial against his old company. He worked for News America for seven years from 1999 to 2006, turning whistleblower in his final year there. The company is the leading US provider of in-store advertising services, helping to bring products from firms such as Coca-Cola, Kraft and Nabisco to the attention of supermarket shoppers. Headed by Paul Carlucci, who now publishes Murdoch’s tabloid the New York Post, it enjoys annual revenues of more than $1bn and has a 90% stranglehold on the market. News America also has a record of legal disputes with its commercial rivals, three of whom have launched lawsuits against it in recent years accusing the firm of using unlawful practices.
All three lawsuits – including the Floorgraphics one and cases initiated by Valassis and Insignia – were eventually settled, but not before News America agreed to pay an astounding $655m to end the disputes. Emmel acted as a whistleblower in all three cases. He gave two days of evidence in the Floorgraphics trial after which News America rapidly settled, and was also named in the Valassis and Insignia cases.