October 31, 2014

DOJ Catch of the Week — Columbia University

By the C|C Whistleblower Lawyer Team

This week’s Department of Justice “catch of the week” goes to Columbia University. On Tuesday, the storied Ivy League institution agreed to pay $9 million to settle allegations it defrauded the government of grant funding for AIDS and HIV related work. The settlement was simultaneous with the government’s filing of a civil fraud lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against the university and ICAP (formerly known as International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs). See DOJ Press Release.

According to the government, Columbia violated the False Claims Act through its submission of false claims for federal grants the university obtained to fund ICAP’s AIDS and HIV programs. Specifically, the government charged that as the grant administrator, Columbia was required but failed to verify for nearly 200 ICAP employees that they performed the work for which they received grant funding. This resulted in Columbia obtaining grants for work that was not actually performed on the project being funded.

Columbia allegedly was well aware of this failure but continued to charge many federal grants for work that was not devoted to the projects they funded. As part of the settlement, the university admitted to the wrongdoing. In announcing the settlement, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara impressed upon the need for federal grant recipients, even universities, to strictly comply with the terms of the grant:

Columbia University and ICAP applied to the federal government and received many millions of dollars to fund AIDS and HIV projects around the world. We admire and applaud Columbia’s work in combating AIDS and HIV. But grantees cannot disregard the terms under which grant money is provided. Grantees are required to use federal money for the purpose for which the grant was given and nothing else. The applicable rules are clear, and they are at the core of ensuring that tax dollars are appropriately spent. Educational institutions, like everyone else, should be held accountable when they fail to follow those rules.

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