May 16, 2019 | Education Fraud
Duke Whistleblower Case – Would You Have Come Forward?
Here’s a hypothetical “What would you do?” question.
You’re working in a research lab and realize that the lab has, for years, been falsifying data and misusing federal grant money.
- Would you blow the whistle because the government (i.e., the American taxpayer) is being cheated?
- Would you still blow the whistle if you were under a threat of losing your job and perhaps your reputation for knowing too much?
- What if you stood to potentially reap six figures or more for exposing the fraud?
Duke biologist blows the whistle – sounds alarm
These are the questions a Duke research biologist faced when he discovered that the studies he was involved in were being purposely changed and falsified by a colleague. When it appeared that his department’s leaders were covering up the misconduct, he contacted an attorney. The attorney took the matter to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The government investigated the case but ultimately declined to intervene. That left him and his attorney to decide whether to try the case on their own or walk away.
They decided to take the case without the intervention of the DOJ. They eventually settled, and Duke (which had received more than $200 million in ill-gotten federal funding) was penalized to the tune of more than $112 million. The whistleblower’s reward? Nearly $34 million or a 30% cut of the university’s penalty – the maximum percentage a whistleblower can receive.1,3
Whistleblowers protected under federal false claims act
What this biologist did was not an easy decision – coming forward with information damaging to his powerful and prestigious employer. Fortunately, like all whistleblowers, he had whistleblower protections under the federal False Claims Act (FCA) – an Act designed to protect whistleblowers as much as possible and reward them for alerting the government of fraud.
The federal False Claims Act states that any employee who is discharged, demoted, harassed, or discriminated against because they filed a whistleblower/qui tam claim is entitled to be “made whole.” This includes but is not limited to:
- Reinstatement to the same seniority employment status
- Up to twice the amount of their back pay, plus interest
- Compensation for any special damages including litigation costs and reasonable attorney’s fees
It also affords the whistleblower (referred to as the “relator” in a qui tam suit) to potentially receive up to 30% of what the government recovers.
Duke grant/Research fraud: Tip of the iceberg
This high-profile case illustrates how much can be at stake in whistleblower cases. What people do not realize is that Duke, while wrong, is among “good” company of universities and institutions across the nation who have been caught falsifying data. Northwestern, Columbia, and Ohio State, for starters. You can bet that university officials nationwide are taking a hard look at the way their institutions assure the veracity of their research.
Still, it makes you wonder how many researchers and biologists, lab technicians, scholarly writers, and even administrators have knowledge of fraud. Having handled a number of whistleblower claims, my guess would be that a lot of people know about such fraud, but remain silent. They are faced with the very same dilemma as the Duke research biologist.
When weighing the options of whether to come forward, some will choose to because it is the right thing to do. Some will come forward for the potential reward money. Whatever the case, whistleblowers play a critical role in exposing fraud against the government.
According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, it is the whistleblower who
uncovers 43% of fraud within organizations.
Clearly, the system works, as I outlined in an op ed for Triangle Business Journal.
Contact Carolina Whistleblower Attorneys – experience & confidentiality
If you suspect fraud against the federal or state government, let’s talk. We are here to help put you at ease as we try to help you determine confidentially and discretely if you should move forward with a whistleblower/qui tam claim.
P.S. If we decide to take your case and you don’t get a reward for reporting fraud, you owe us no fee.2
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Contact the Carolina
If you’re wondering if it’s a good idea to speak with a whistleblower lawyer about what you know, let us set the record straight.
- Corporate ethics hotlines can be risky and may lead to termination. If you’ve already done this, call us immediately.
- Your coworkers could be aware of the fraud – or complicit in it – and you should not talk to them about it.
- The first claim to be filed under the False Claims Act can proceed – if you’re not first, you’re at a serious disadvantage and may get nothing (another reason not to speak to your coworkers about it).
- A confidential discussion costs you a few minutes, but could save you time, stress, and money.
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