Embezzlement, 15 retractions, and a whistleblower could add up to trouble for Duke

scienceRetraction Watch readers may recall the case of Erin Potts-Kant, who pled guilty to embezzling funds from a lab, and now has 15 retractions, and Michael Foster, both formerly of Duke. You may also remember that we’ve featured discussions of the False Claims Act, which some attorneys are trying to use to expose wrongdoing — and earn large settlements for whistleblowers in the process.

It turns out those two threads are intertwined, as we learned only last month when a federal court case against Potts-Kant, Foster, and Duke was unsealed last month. (False Claims Act cases are frequently sealed when initially filed, with big penalties for anyone — including the attorneys — who talk about them, which is why we didn’t know of this link before.) In today’s Science, as part of our new partnership, we tell the story in a lot more detail, and describe the potential ramifications for Duke and other universities.

The whistleblower in the Duke case is named Joseph Thomas, and it’s his brother John, whose law firm Gentry Locke is representing him — and who wrote about the False Claims Act for us. The suit alleges that Potts-Kant, Foster, and Duke included “fraudulent data in more than 60 federal grants worth some $200 million,” our Alison McCook writes in Science, and “should scare all [academic] institutions around the country,” one attorney unrelated to the case told her.

Read the whole story in Science, and read the lawsuit filing here.

One thought on “Embezzlement, 15 retractions, and a whistleblower could add up to trouble for Duke”

  1. I admit that I just read about this and haven’t been following it, or any other FCA against a university, for very long.

    So, the university received the money but shouldn’t it be the fasifier that pays punitive damages? And shouldn’t the whistleblower be guaranteed anonymity and to keep their job instead of a fraction of the recovered money? Isn’t it a COI that the whistleblower is part of the university’s investigation?

    I mean, wasn’t the university already cooperating with the government? And how is it that the government isn’t involved in the suit when it’s the government’s money that’s been mishandled? Isn’t that the crux of the suit?

    Please help me understand.

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