About-to-be-dismissed lawsuit reveals details of chronic fatigue syndrome-XMRV research fiasco

Judy Mikovits

A case filed by chronic fatigue syndrome researcher Judy Mikovits — and about to be dismissed on technical grounds — reveals that Mikovits believes her firing from a research institute was in retaliation for blowing the whistle on activities there.

The suit — which we’ve made available here — was originally filed in November 2014 but is scheduled to be dismissed next week because Mikovits failed to serve the defendant within 120 days, as required under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In it, Mikovits seeks:

to recover damages, penalties, and attorney’s fees for violations of the federal False Claims Act anti-retaliation provisions.

According to the complaint, sometime in 2011, Mikovits discovered that one of her colleagues, co-author Vincent Lombardi (no, not that one),

had been using federally-funded research materials for use in research for a for-profit entity owned by the Whittemores, VIPDx.

Annette and Harvey Whittemore became involved in the field after their child developed chronic fatigue, co-founding the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease (WPI).  VIPDx, short for Viral Immune Pathology Diagnostics, was selling a diagnostic test for XMRV, a retrovirus Mikovits had linked to chronic fatigue syndrome (in a paper that was ultimately retracted).

Mikovits told Lombardi and the Whittemores about the “perceived misappropriation,” and asked him to stop. She also wrote a paper — apparently this one — saying that VIPDx’s product “was based on contaminated research.”

On September 29, 2011, Mikovits was fired from her post as research director of WPI. She would eventually spend several days in jail for being a “fugitive from justice” after the Whittemores filed a civil suit saying she had stolen lab notebooks. Mikovits, however, said the suit was

intended to retaliate against Mikovits because of her role in furthering a potential qui tam proceeding, and seeking to stop perceived fraud against the government.

Mikovits, according to the complaint, said she could not turn over the notebooks “because of concerns for the safety of patient data,” and lost her case. A judgment against her of $5.5 million bankrupted her, according to the complaint. (For more background on qui tam cases, click here.)

The suit goes into a great deal of detail, including specifics about the lockdown of Mikovits’s lab. In response to a request for comment on the suit, Mikovits told Retraction Watch:

I am being assisted by some wonderful attorneys. They advised me not to discuss any of the cases.  The court is the only appropriate forum for these matters.

Who precisely those attorneys are is unclear; we asked if we could speak to them, but Mikovits did not respond. David Scher, who prepared one version of the complaints, tells Retraction Watch that his firm does not represent Mikovits. When asked if they did at the time the complaint was filed, he responded:

Attorney-client relationships (if any) are privileged. As such I cannot respond to your question.

Mikovits has recently co-authored a book with Kent Heckenlively, titled PLAGUE – One Scientist’s Intrepid Search for the Truth about Retroviruses, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Autism, and Other Diseases. Heckenlively is active at sites that insist on the long-discredited link between vaccines and autism such as Age of Autism. She has also spoken at Autism One, where speakers tend to share the view that autism and vaccines are linked, and appeared at the Commonwealth Club with Heckenlively and the author of a retracted autism-vaccine link study.

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10 thoughts on “About-to-be-dismissed lawsuit reveals details of chronic fatigue syndrome-XMRV research fiasco”

  1. I am being assisted by some wonderful attorneys.

    And they compiled what reads as an un-grammarchecked collection of slurs and irrelevant innuendo?

    20. Harvey Whittemore is widely considered one of the most influential citizens of Nevada.
    21. Harvey Whittemore’s [sic] is also a prolific fundraiser for Nevada politicians.
    22. In addition to this, Harvey Whittemore is a lawyer who was a lobbyist for the gaming industry in Nevada, as well as the petrochemical industry.
    23. Annette Whittemore is a socialite known for throwing lavish, well-attended parties.

  2. Please interview Alter and Lo regarding their findings. What is the real truth? http://solvecfs.org/another-turn-of-the-retrovirus-kaleidoscope/ The article by Lo et al. published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS),1 is perhaps the most anticipated report of research conducted on samples from individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) since the condition was formally defined 22 years ago. With colleagues at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Harvard Medical School, Shyh-Ching Lo and Harvey Alter report finding murine leukemia virus (MLV)-related gag sequences in 32 of 37 (86.5 percent) of CFS patients, compared to 3 of 44 (6.8 percent) healthy blood donors. This study substantiates the report from Lombardi et al.2 published last October in Science that ignited interest in and launched numerous research studies into a possible association between CFS and xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV). XMRV is a gammaretrovirus of likely mouse (murine) origin that has also been associated with subsets of prostate cancer. It has been described as “the first authentic gammaretrovirus that can infect humans.”3 Since October 2009, four groups have failed to find evidence of XMRV in CFS patients. The authors of the PNAS paper did not find XMRV either; rather, they found evidence of a total of six variants of MLV-related retroviruses in samples collected from CFS patients and healthy blood donors.

    The study has been retracted: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/1/346.short

    1. pjeanneus
      The study has been retracted: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/1/346.short

      “We stand by our findings but we would like to retract them anyway.”

      First author Lo had prior form. Lo’s previous time in the limelight was in the early 1990s when he decided that the real cause of AIDS was Mycoplasma fermentans incognito, which his PCR tests — and only his tests — could detect in every patient he checked. Now it only exists on biowarfare conspiracy blogs.

      From Lo’s patent on the putative organism:

      In addition to AIDS, M. fermentans incognitus has been implicated in a number of other Disease states including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Wegener’s Disease, Sarcoidosis, respiratory distress syndrome, Kikuchi’s disease, autoimmune diseases such as Collagen Vascular Disease and Lupus, and chronic debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease. M. fermentans incognitus may be either a causative agent of these diseases or a key co-factor in these diseases

      It appears that in cell biology there are second acts. Although the second act finished the same as the first — with lots of headlines, and lots of time wasted by people trying to replicate his results.

  3. Anyone who takes a Qui Tam case in my view is asking for a lot of pain. If you see a problem report it to a relevant oversight body. If they don’t care or don’t uphold you then let it go.

  4. Who precisely those attorneys are is unclear; we asked if we could speak to them, but Mikovits did not respond.

    On June 8, Mikovits filed a request for more time to serve the plaintiffs. It mentions another case she has pending, in other court.

    “To date, I have been unable to locate counsel.” I’ve RECAPped it (and, really, if y’all are going to be downloading case documents, so should you); see document 5 here.

    What her other lawsuit is about is something I haven’t looked at yet.

    1. The complaint in the other case is here:

      She switched, in that case (Mikovits v. Adam Garcia et al., CACD 2:14-cv-08909), from pro se to being represented by Robert J. Liskey on 2015 April 21.

  5. pjeanneus
    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the conviction of a former Nevada lobbyist accused of making illegal campaign contributions to Sen. Harry Reid’s 2010 reelection campaign.
    The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected F. Harvey Whittemore’s …

    What does this have to do with the so-called conspiracy against Judy Mikovits?

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