New York City-based Columbia University, one of the world’s most renowned medical research institutions, has recently come under fire for mismanaging millions of dollars in federal grant money earmarked for AIDS and HIV-related research. The allegations found in the government’s complaint specifically involve the mismanagement of employees and the falsification of employee work hours – which were subsequently charged to the grant for reimbursement.
Details of the case against Columbia University
As a preeminent American medical school, Columbia University was tasked with administering and managing millions of dollars in grant money supplied to the International Center for Aids Care and Treatment Programs (ICAP), an initiative set into motion by the 2004 President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The program was designed to provide funding for the prevention, care, and treatment of AIDS patients around the world. Under this initiative, Columbia received $125 million for its Multi-Country Columbia Antiretroviral Program, followed by funding for more than 70 additional grants over the next several years.
Naturally, the terms of the grant required Columbia University to track and monitor employees’ work hours and tasks, which were thereafter reported to the grant fund managers for reimbursement from the fund. Allegedly, Columbia knew it had a responsibility to properly manage employees, but failed to do so. Specifically, over 200 employees never generated work reports and their work tasks were never verified for compliance with the grant’s requirements. Alarmingly, the university’s Finance Department generated reports for these 200 individuals, using “limited or no knowledge of which grants the individuals actually worked on.”
Thereafter, principal investigators on the grants would certify that the reports were correct without actually verifying the information contained therein. Investigators would approve large batches of reports at once, never actually inquiring into the information contained in each individual document.
Interestingly, Columbia University admitted to the wrongdoing in its Settlement Agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The University admitted that it failed to use suitable means of verifying the salary and wage expenses applied to certain grants. The total settlement amount is $9,020,073.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara commented, “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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If you are aware of misuse or mismanagement of federal grant money, we encourage you to contact us today. Our attorneys can offer confidential representation of your whistleblower claim, which could result in a reward of up to 30 percent of the overall settlement or verdict.