HOUSTON – The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHSC) at Houston has paid $2,396,769.76 to resolve allegations that its Human Genetics Center misappropriated grant funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided for research related to the impact of genomic variation on individual health and the health of families and populations, announced U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick. A component of UTHealth, UTHSCH is one of the largest research institutions in the United States.
“Misappropriating NIH grant funds intended to advance the health of individuals and families, as alleged here, will not be tolerated,” said Special Agent in Charge CJ Porter of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Inspector General. “Patients can be assured the government will aggressively investigate and prosecute fraudulent use of these taxpayer funds.”
The United States began its investigation after receiving a tip that the Genetics Center had misappropriated funds under an NIH grant related to sequencing the human genome. According to the source, the center wanted to draw down a substantial portion of the money remaining on the grant before the end of the grant period so that it would not have to return unused funds to the NIH. To accomplish this, the source claimed the center placed an order for a large quantity of genetic sequencing material from Illumina Inc. just prior to the end of the subject grant. They then allegedly stopped shipment of that material and had Illumina establish a credit for the material, from which the Genetics Center then used to purchase goods and services after the close out of the grant.
A two-year investigation substantiated the information provided by the anonymous source. The evidence revealed that just prior to the end of the grant period in late September 2012, the Genetics Center placed an order for Human Omni 5 DNA Analysis Bead Chip Kits from Illumina in the amount of $1,198,384.88. The Genetics Center stopped delivery of the shipment after making payment to Illumina. This resulted in UTHSCH underreporting by that amount the unobligated federal funds remaining on the grant which were not returned to NIH.
This misappropriation of federal funds deprived NIH of grant funds to which it would have otherwise been entitled. These funds could have then been used for other grants.
Because Illumina had received payment for the shipment, it established a credit to the Genetics Center in the amount of $1,198,384.88. From October 2012 through to Dec. 31, 2017, the center used that credit to purchase goods and services from Illumina.
The Department of Health and Human Services – Office of the Inspector General conducted the investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew A. Bobb represented the United States.
The claims resolved by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.