Former Northwestern Physician to Pay the United States $475,000 to Settle Cancer Research Grant Fraud Claims
CHICAGO—A former cancer research physician at Northwestern University’s Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Center for Cancer in Chicago will pay the United States $475,000 to settle claims of federal research grant fraud. Dr. Charles L. Bennett agreed to the settlement in a federal False Claims Act lawsuit that was first made public last year after the government investigated the claims made by a former employee and whistleblower who will receive a portion of the settlement.
In July 2013, Northwestern University agreed to pay the United States $2.93 million to settle identical claims against the university. Northwestern, which fully cooperated during the investigation, did not admit liability as part of the settlement.
In a settlement agreement filed today in U.S. District Court, Dr. Bennett, of Columbia, S. Car., also did not admit liability, nor did the government concede that its claims were not wellfounded.
In a lawsuit filed in January this year, the government contended that Dr. Bennett submitted false claims under research grants from the National Institutes of Health. The settlement covers improper claims that Dr. Bennett submitted for reimbursement from the federal grants for professional and consulting services, food, hotels, travel, conference registration fees, and other expenses that benefited Dr. Bennett, his friends, and family from Jan. 1, 2003, through Aug. 31, 2010.
The allegations were initially made in a civil lawsuit filed under seal in 2009 by Melissa Theis, who in 2007 and 2008 worked as a purchasing coordinator in hematology and oncology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She will receive $80,750 from the settlement with Dr. Bennett, and earlier she received $498,100 from the settlement with Northwestern. Her suit, which the government later settled on her behalf, alleged that the defendants submitted false claims to the United States when Dr. Bennett and others directed and authorized the spending of grant funds on goods and services that did not meet applicable NIH and government grant guidelines.
The allegations were investigated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The government contended Northwestern improperly submitted claims to NIH for grant expenditures for items that were for the personal benefit of Dr. Bennett, his friends and family that were incurred in connection with grants as to which he was the principal investigator.
The settlement with Dr. Bennett resolves the remaining claims and effectively ends the litigation. The agreement reserves the authority of any federal agency, including HHS, to take any administrative action, such as suspending or debarring Dr. Bennett from receiving future research grants. United States v. Charles L. Bennett, M.D., No. 09 C 1943 (N.D. Ill.).
Dr. Bennett agreed to pay the settlement by Dec. 1, 2014. The agreement covers allegations that false claims were submitted to NIH for costs that Dr. 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. Dr. 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.
The settlement with Dr. Bennett was announced by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General—Chicago Region, and the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The United States was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kurt N. Lindland.