September 5, 2012

Court: Weill Cornell Medical College Lied About, Misused AIDS Research Grant

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Researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College cheated the federal government by misusing, and then lying about, funding intended for HIV/AIDS research, three federal appeals court judges said in a unanimous ruling issued Wednesday.

The University is ordered to pay $855,714 in damages. Coupled with mandated legal fees, Weill could pay more than $1.7 million, said Michael Salmanson, the lawyer for plaintiff Dr. Daniel Feldman.

Feldman, a former Cornell fellow, brought the suit against the University under the False Claims Act. Feldman said that while at a program funded by the National Institute of Health, he and other fellows spent less than half of their research time studying HIV/AIDS and instead often worked on “medicolegal” cases.

Weill’s grant application for the program stated that “‘the majority of [the fellows’] clinical work will be with persons with HIV infection,’” according to Wednesday’s ruling. But, as the court’s decision continues, only three of the 163 patients seen by the fellows were HIV-positive.

“Several fellows testified that much of the research that they performed under the grant program had no relation to HIV or AIDS at all,” the appeal’s court ruling states.

Feldman produced evidence of several wrongdoings that the three judges found credible.

“Several core courses identified in the application were not regularly conducted for fellows, and fellows were not informed that these courses were a required component of the program. Moreover … fellows were never evaluated or supervised by the training committee referred to in the grant application,” the ruling states.

In 2010, a lower, district court ruled that Weill and Dr. Wilfred van Gorp — who ran the program but no longer works at WCMC — falsified claims on three separate occasions from 2001 to 2003.

Cornell appealed the ruling.

“There were some serious mistakes made during the course of the trial, and we continue to believe that this was an excellent training program that did exactly what it was supposed to do,” James Kahn, deputy counsel for WCMC, told The Sun in April 2011.

The judges with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, apparently, disagreed.

Denying the medical college’s appeal, the judges affirmed both the lower court’s findings and its reasoning.

Neither a representative from Weill nor one from the University returned a request for comment late Wednesday night. The case could still go to the Supreme Court, though Sal­manson said he be­lieves this is unlikely.

“Frankly, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said. “They’ve been ruled against since 2003. It’s been nine years. Today, we were elated.”

Original Author: Jeff Stein