The Department of Justice has announced that Duke University will pay $112.5 million to the federal government to settle allegations that researchers submitted applications and reports that included fabricated data to win over two dozen grants from the Environmental Protection Agency and National Institutes of Health.
“Taxpayers expect and deserve that federal grant dollars will be used efficiently and honestly,” said U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, Matthew G.T. Martin in a statement. “May this serve as a lesson that the use of false or fabricated data in grant applications or reports is completely unacceptable.”
The allegations against the school were made in a lawsuit by research analyst Joseph Thomas, who worked in Duke’s pulmonary division. Thomas claimed in the suit that Erin Potts-Kant, another researcher at the university, had fabricated data connected up to $200 million in federal research grants.
Dr. Vincent Price
Thomas filed the lawsuit under the False Claims Act, which allows individuals to sue on behalf of the government, according to The New York Times.
Under the act, the plaintiff may receive a portion of the damages.
Thomas’s lawsuit claimed that the fraud took place from 2006 and 2013, however, the Department of Justice recently announced that the allegations actually covered a longer time frame, from 2006 to 2018.
After the settlement was announced, Duke officials said they discovered the potential research fraud in 2013, after Potts-Kant was let go for embezzling funds. The officials added that Potts-Kant later pled guilty to two counts of forgery and paid restitution.
Duke president Dr. Vincent E. Price said the settlement funds would include reimbursement of the grants awarded as a result of the fabricated data, in addition to other penalties.
“This is a difficult moment for Duke,” Price said. “This case demonstrates the devastating impact of research fraud and reinforces the need for all of us to have a focused commitment on promoting research integrity and accountability.”
Price said the institution will implement many additional measures to promote values and a “culture of excellence and accountability.” One of those measures will be establishing an advisory panel on research integrity and excellence.