Duke University will pay $112.5 million to the federal government following accusations that it submitted falsified research on thirty federal grants over a span of twelve years.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, which announced the settlement Monday, the university allegedly submitted “falsified or fabricated data or research” in grant applications and reports to the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency between 2006 and 2018, causing the NIH and EPA to pay out grant funds they wouldn’t have otherwise.
While there hasn’t been a determination of liability, the federal government contends that Duke submitted the false information knowingly to claim millions in federal grant dollars.
The settlement resolves the allegations, which originally came to light as part of a lawsuit filed by a former Duke employee, Joseph Thomas, under the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act lets a whistleblower pursue a claim on the government’s behalf. Thomas will get $33.75 million from the settlement. The settlement also covers reimbursements for grants associated with the falsified information.
“Taxpayers expect and deserve that federal grant dollars will be used efficiently and honestly,” said Matthew G.T. Martin, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, in a statement. “Individuals and institutions that receive research funding from the federal government must be scrupulous in conducting research for the common good and rigorous in rooting out fraud. May this serve as a lesson that the use of false or fabricated data in grant applications or reports is completely unacceptable.”
The allegations center on research conducted on the lung functions of mice by a research technician in Duke’s Airway Physiology Laboratory. According to the university, Duke discovered the alleged misconduct in 2013 after the technician—who has since pleaded guilty to two counts of forgery—was fired for embezzling money from Duke. Erin Potts-Kant had more than a dozen papers retracted, the Duke Chronicle reported.