On July 30, 2013, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois announced that Northwestern University entered a settlement agreement to pay the United States $2.9 million to settle False Claims Act claims related to the alleged misuse of cancer research grant funds by a former researcher and physician at the university’s cancer center. The allegations were made in a civil suit filed under seal by a former employee and whistleblower, Melissa Theis, who worked as a purchasing coordinator in hematology and oncology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
Theis alleged that Northwestern and certain of its researchers submitted false claims related to National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal grant funds for goods and services that did not meet applicable NIH and government grants guidelines. The settlement covers claims that one of the Northwestern principal investigators (Dr. Bennett) submitted improper claims for reimbursement from the federal grants for professional and consulting services, subcontracts, food, hotels, travel, and other expenses that benefited the investigator, his friends, and family from January 1, 2003, through August 31, 2010. The U.S. Attorney’s office reports in its July 30, 2013 news release that Northwestern fully cooperated during the investigation and did not admit liability as part of the settlement. Under the settlement agreement, Northwestern is released from the claims made in the whistleblower lawsuit. The case remains pending against Dr. Bennett individually.
The complaint was unsealed on July 30, 2013 and is available here, and the settlement agreement is available here.