Before attorney David Wasinger decided to take on two of the biggest global banks in federal court in New York, he had visited the city just twice: once when he was 6, and the second time on a tour bus with his children.
As the sole partner at a five-attorney firm in St. Louis, Missouri, Wasinger was mostly focused on local business litigation and had never represented a whistleblower.
But in January 2012 an old business acquaintance was ready to go public with accusations of widespread mortgage fraud at Bank of America's Countrywide unit, and he turned to Wasinger.
That touched off a series of events that put Wasinger at the center of two of the biggest legal cases to emerge from the 2007-2009 financial crisis, against Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase & Co, respectively.
In January, the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan said it is seeking up to $2.1 billion in penalties from Bank of America after a jury in October found the firm liable for fraud over defective mortgages sold by Countrywide. Wasinger's client, former Countrywide Executive Vice President Edward O'Donnell, was the star witness for the prosecution.
And earlier this month, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay $614 million to settle claims that it defrauded the U.S. government by submitting sub par home loans for federal insurance. The case relied in part on evidence provided by another Wasinger client.
"We've been very, very fortunate," Wasinger, 50, told Reuters in an interview. "I am just a country lawyer from Missouri trying to hold Wall Street accountable."
It has not been determined how much money Wasinger's firm or his clients will receive. Typically, a whistleblower who exposes fraud against the government can receive 15 percent to 25 percent of the settlement, though a court can cut the award depending on how much the person contributed to the case and other factors.
Experts say Wasinger's payout from the JPMorgan case could reach into the millions of dollars, an amount that would be a windfall for his relatively modest firm. His potential gains from the Bank of America case would likely be much smaller, as that case was tried under a law that limits whistleblower recoveries. Wasinger declined to comment on possible earnings.
Representing whistleblowers is a lucrative business for lawyers and is hyper competitive, since few corporate insiders who come forward actually have the information that leads to big government lawsuits. What makes Wasinger's situation unusual is that he