Numerous government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Small Business Administration, pay out billions of dollars each year in grant funding for research by individuals, companies, and institutions. The agencies typically receive far more grant applications than they can fund, and they necessarily rely on applicants to provide accurate information about their past work and the nature of the research they plan to conduct. Once issued, the grants typically impose strict requirements on how the money may be spent and on the reporting of time, expenses, and progress the grantee must provide on a periodic basis.
While most researchers operate with integrity, the temptation to fudge is strong when so much money is at stake. As a result, the government actively pursues False Claims Act cases involving research grant fraud. The following are just a few examples of research grant fraud cases that originated from whistleblowers:
- In 2019, Duke University agreed to pay $112.5 million to resolve allegations that a laboratory at Duke submitted false or fabricated mice research data under 30 grants, causing NIH and the Environmental Protection Agency to pay out grant funds they otherwise would not have.
- In 2017, when Newman & Shapiro attorney Gregg Shapiro was an Assistant United States Attorney, he negotiated a $10 million settlement with Brigham & Women’s Hospital (BWH) to resolve allegations that a BWH lab led by Dr. Piero Anversa used manipulated and falsified information, including confocal microscope images and carbon-14 age data for cells, to obtain NIH research grants.
- In 2016, Agiltron Inc. paid $2.25 million to resolve allegations that it falsified labor costs to obtain funding under 15 grants and contracts awarded through the federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.
- In 2014, in another case that Newman & Shapiro attorney Gregg Shapiro handled as an Assistant United States Attorney, Tokutek, Inc., paid $120,000 to resolve allegations that it failed to create and maintain accurate time records reflecting work allegedly performed by its employees related to a NSF award.
In each of these cases, the government relied on the False Claims Act to recover from the unscrupulous recipients of federal grant money. Importantly, the False Claims Act has a whistleblower provision that rewards people who file cases about government research grant fraud. The whistleblowers may be employees, competitors, colleagues, or graduate students working in a lab. If a case initiated by a whistleblower results in a recovery under the False Claims Act, the whistleblower may be entitled to 15% to 30% of the recovery. The False Claims Act also has anti-retaliation provisions to protect whistleblowers who come forward.
At Newman & Shapiro, we have extensive experience pursuing entities that have engaged in government research grant fraud. If you have information about such a fraud, please contact us for a free consultation. We can evaluate your evidence, advise you on whether to file a False Claims Act case, and explain your rights against retaliation.