Today, Tony Menendez is the accountant who beat Halliburton.
But in 2005, he was a newly-hired Halliburton executive with a fancy new title: Director of Technical Accounting Research and Training.
Shortly after Menendez started, he noticed an unusual accounting practice. Halliburton's accountants had been allowing the company to count the full value of equipment sales as revenue upon purchase, sometimes before it had been assembled. The Securities and Exchange Commission had been cracking down on this type of accounting since 2003, giving Menendez cause for concern. He took that concern to top accounting executives. They initially agreed with him. But a shift in practice could amount to billions of dollars in what the company claimed was revenue, so Menendez went to the SEC.
What happened next began a nine-year ordeal, with Menendez fighting to prove that Halliburton retaliated against him for blowing the whistle. For years, Menendez represented himself — devoting thousands of hours of his own time filling briefs, meeting deadlines and countering the company's team of white-shoe lawyers.
Senior reporter Jesse Eisinger lays out the full story of how Menendez went from Halliburton new hire to whistleblower.
(Questions and answer have been edited for length and style.)
Question: Did Halliburton have a whistle blower policy prior to this incident? If so, was it violated? Do most companies have such a policy?
Tony Menendez: Yes indeed Halliburton had a whistleblower policy as required under Sarbanes-Oxley ... it was required to be confidential and Halliburton's policy promised confidentiality while at the same time discouraging anonymous complaints on the basis that if you didn't provide your identity they may not be able to properly investigate your concern. This was absolutely central to my case and I relied on this policy but was Halliburton blatantly ignored its own policy and betrayed my trust.
Question: Do you think the SEC leaked your name to someone at Halliburton?
Menendez: I hope not but I don't know for sure.
Question: From your perspective, how do you think we can improve the whistleblowing experience? I think you and people like you are truly patriotic, and we should do everything we can to encourage more of what you did. Any ideas on how to do that?
Menendez: Thank you for the kind words. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for a whistleblower to prevail. There needs to be more protections and there simply needs to be a more balanced playing field. It shouldn't take 9 years and hundreds of thousands to even have a remote chance of prevailing.
Question: Did you ever lose hope/ feel your fight was becoming a lost cause? How did you overcome the adversity?
Menendez: I can honestly say that there were many, many days were hope was a very hard thing to come by.... In fact, I started out with a tremendous amount of hope but over time and as I continued to lose at every stage of the fight, the only thing I had left was that I was simply afraid to quit.
Question: Were you afraid of physical threat at any point?
Menendez: I got the point that I couldn't control what would happen but I didn't plan on living my life being afraid.