Federal Grand Jury Charges NIH Funded Researcher with 4 Counts of False Statements in Health Care Fraud Scheme
Sometimes ground breaking medical research results are too good to be true. In this case, it was because the scientist responsible for the research allegedly committed health care fraud by falsifying his research results. Federal prosecutors have charged Dr. Dong Pyou Han, a 57 year old medical researcher at Iowa State University, with four counts of making false statements to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in order to support grant applications that led to millions of dollars in HIV/AIDS vaccine related funding. Prior to the government uncovering this alleged fraudulent scheme, Dr. Han’s research findings were considered ground breaking in the field of HIV/AIDS related vaccine research.
On June 17, 2014, a federal grand jury charged in its indictment that on four separate occasions Dr. Han manipulated data which purported to show that the study’s HIV/AIDS vaccine neutralized the virus when it actually did not. The indictment alleges that Dr. Han then reported his fake study results to the experiment’s lead scientist, whom Dr. Han knew would use the data to support further NIH research grant funding. To cover up his fraud, the indictment alleges that Dr. Han then spiked serum which was being sent to an outside laboratory at Duke University for verification. Thus, Dr. Han guaranteed the secondary testing laboratory would unknowingly verify Dr. Han’s fake results. The indictment charges Dr. Han with four counts of false statements in violation of Title 18 United State Code, Section 1001(a)(2) and Section 2. Dr. Han faces a maximum period of five years’ incarceration for each offense.
Dr. Han’s case isn’t the first time a medical researcher has been in hot water for phony lab results to support NIH grant proposals. The federal government has brought criminal and civil fraud charges against other scientists, private research labs, and universities in recent years. Time to double check and triple check those lab results! In May 2010, a federal judge in Massachusetts sentenced Dr. Scott Reuben, infamously dubbed the “Medical Madoff” to six months in prison for fraud after he pled guilty to fabricating results in a lab study testing the effectiveness of the prescription drug Celebrex for drug maker Pfizer. An investigation revealed that Dr. Reuben wasn’t a newbie at health care fraud and had been falsifying lab data as far back as 1996. Talk about a serial cheater. In November 2012, Dr. Craig Grimes, a former Pennsylvania State Professor and medical researcher, pled guilty to wire fraud, making false statements, and money laundering in violation of Title 18 U.S.C. Sections 1343, 1001(a)(2) and 1957. The government claimed Dr. Grimes misappropriated half a million dollars allocated for blood gas studies in adult and infant subjects. A federal judge sentenced Dr. Grimes to more than three years in prison.
But it’s not just the doctors with their phony research results who are on the hook. In July of 2013, Northwestern University agreed to pay nearly $3 million dollars to settle civil fraud claims brought by the federal government after Dr. Charles L. Bennett submitted false claims to support his research grant applications to the NIH. In this case, Dr. Bennett and Dr. Steven T. Rosen are alleged to have authorized the expenditure of NIH grant money for personal travel, hotels, meals and to hire family and friends as phony “consultants” all in violation of the public trust.
As the Dr. Han and prior cases show, there are real criminal and civil consequences to health care fraud. The federal government has shown an apparent increasing willingness to go after medical researchers and their sponsoring institutions for health care fraud. Therefore, health care and medical research professionals and sponsoring organizations who suspect fraud in their clinical research programs should contact an experienced White Collar Defense Attorney to help protect their rights.