Northwestern to pay nearly $3M to settle grant fund claims - KMSP-TV

Northwestern to pay nearly $3M to settle cancer research grant fraud claims

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

Northwestern University will pay $2.93 million to settle claims of cancer research grant fraud by a former researcher and physician at the university's Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Center for Cancer in Chicago, the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago announced Tuesday.

Northwestern agreed to the settlement in a federal False Claims Act lawsuit that was unsealed Tuesday after the government investigated the claims made by a former employee and whistleblower who will receive a portion of the settlement.

Northwestern allegedly allowed one of its researchers, Dr. Charles L. Bennett, to submit false claims under research grants from the National Institutes of Health, according to a U.S. Attorney's office release. The settlement, which will be paid to the U.S. government, covers improper claims that Bennett submitted for reimbursement from the federal grants for professional and consulting services, subcontracts, food, hotels, travel and other expenses that benefited him, his friends and family from Jan. 1, 2003, through Aug. 31, 2010.

The allegations were made in a civil lawsuit filed under seal in 2009 by Melissa Theis, a former employee of the Lurie Cancer Center, who will receive $498,100 in settlement proceeds, the release said.

Northwestern, which fully cooperated during the investigation, did not admit liability as part of the settlement. Northwestern agreed to pay the settlement within 14 business days.

The agreement covers allegations that the university submitted false claims to NIH for costs that Bennett incurred on his grant-funded research projects involving adverse drug-events, multiple myeloma drugs, a blood disorder known as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, and quality of care for cancer patients. Bennett allegedly billed those federal grants for family trips, meals and hotels for himself and friends, and "consulting fees" for unqualified friends and family members, including his brother and cousin. At Bennett's request, Northwestern also allegedly improperly subcontracted with various universities for services that were paid for by the NIH grants.

Under the federal False Claims Act, defendants may be liable for triple the amount of actual damages and civil penalties between $5,500 and $11,000 for each violation. Individual whistleblowers may be eligible to receive between 15 and 30 percent of the amount of any recovery.

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