Qui Tam Relator Challenges Fraudulent Use Of Grant Funds For Cancer Research
Northwestern University (“NU”) paid $2.9 million to settle a qui tam case brought by a whistleblower through attorney Linda Wyetzner of Behn & Wyetzner, Chartered, charging that Northwestern submitted false claims to the United States when two doctors directed and authorized the spending of grant funds on goods and services that did not meet applicable National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) and Office of Management and Budget grant guidelines. One of the physicians alleged in the qui tam case, Dr. Charles Bennett, did not settle at the same time Northwestern did, so Behn & Wyetzner, Chartered worked closely with the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois’s office to continue litigation against him. Dr. Bennett settled the final portion of this case for $475,000.
The Complaint and Settlement Agreement state that Northwestern University improperly submitted claims to NIH for grant expenditures for:
(1) Professional and consulting services, certain subcontracts, airfare and other transportation, conference registration fees, food, hotel, travel, meals, and other expenditures for items that were for the personal benefit of a Principal Investigator, his friends, and family; and
(2) Certain subcontracts, incentives, supplies, equipment, salaries, and benefits that were incurred in connection with certain grants of that Principal Investigator. The Complaint contended that these grant expenditures did not meet applicable NIH and Office of Management and Budget grant guidelines, and were improperly charged to certain grants between January 1, 2003, and August 31, 2010.
The settlement agreement involving Dr. Bennett covers allegedly improper claims submitted for reimbursement from federal grants for professional and consulting services, food, hotels, travel, and other expenses that benefited Dr. Bennett, his friends, and family from Jan. 1, 2003, through Aug. 31, 2010.
The qui tam relator began working at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine in 2007 as a purchasing coordinator in the Department of Hematology and Oncology. A purchasing coordinator’s primary responsibilities include reviewing and processing invoices and travel reimbursement requests submitted by researchers and physicians working on private and federal government grants. Almost immediately, our client noticed irregularities and red flags with respect to invoices and reimbursement requests submitted and paid for from NIH grants.
Our client knew that these submissions for grant reimbursements were wrong, and in fact were dollars stolen from cancer research. The whistleblower not only did the right thing by alerting the authorities, but also helped Northwestern identify a flaw in their grant reimbursement system, helping them prevent fraud in the future.