A federal jury in New York has found Cornell University’s Weill Medical Center and former faculty member Wilfred van Gorp guilty of violating the False Claims Act (FCA) by defrauding the National Institute of Health (NIH) in a research grant application. Weill Medical Center and Dr. van Gorp applied to NIH for a research grant to train fellows in neuropsychology for a career in HIV/AIDS research. The jury found the defendants guilty of violating the False Claims Act by misrepresenting material information in progress reports which were falsified in order to convince NIH to continue the funding.
Although the research grant was supposed to train fellows for a career in HIV/AIDS research, the defendants apparently required the fellows to treat many private pay-for-service patients with other medical issues. In fact, of the 160 patients seen over the 5 year span, only 3 were HIV positive. Also, the defendants never taught HIV courses they promised to teach nor introduced fellows to key members of the faculty listed on applications. The defendants were required to submit progress reports to NIH which NIH would use to determine whether or not to continue funding. The jury found that the defendants violated the False Claims Act by submitting false progress reports to NIH which induced the agency to continue funding when it otherwise would have terminated the grant.
When research-fellow-turned-whistleblower Daniel Feldman’s initial complaints were ignored by his supervisors, he filed a qui tam action under the False Claims Act. The judge in this case must now rule on the damages the defendants must pay, and Dr. Feldman will receive 15%-25% of the overall recovery, plus reasonable litigation costs and attorney’s fees.