Former Newton Scientist Agrees to Pay $215,000 to Resolve Allegations of False Statements in Grant Application

BOSTON – A former Newton scientist sponsored by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has agreed to resolve allegations that he submitted false statements on a grant application to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Sam W. Lee, PhD, 67, of Bellevue, Wash., has agreed to pay $215,000 to resolve allegations that he submitted false claims for payment in a grant application to the NIH. MGH, the sponsor institution for the NIH grant, disclosed to the United States that Dr. Lee, the Principal Investigator (PI), submitted the grant application to NIH containing allegedly inauthentic data. MGH separately repaid NIH the full amount of funds it drew from the grant. 

“The NIH grant application process relies on scientific integrity, accuracy and honesty from individual principal investigators, but Dr. Lee supplied falsified results, inauthentic data and false statements instead,” said Acting United States Attorney Nathaniel R. Mendell. “Defrauding the NIH wastes taxpayer money, limits the availability of funding for other research and undermines the central purpose of scientific inquiry. We commend MGH for disclosing the alleged false statements, for repaying funds and for taking meaningful steps to prevent future recurrences.”

“The National Institutes of Health (NIH) seeks to preserve and enhance the well-being of our communities by spending $35 billion in taxpayer money each year on medical research; in Massachusetts, over $3 billion is spent annually,” said Special Agent in Charge Phillip M. Coyne of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. “Dr. Lee’s lack of truthfulness defied NIH’s grant application process that is meant to protect research dollars. OIG, with our law enforcement partners, spares no resources to ensure that funding for life saving research is appropriately spent. People who suspect grant fraud are encouraged to report it by calling 1-800-HHS-TIPS.”

The United States contends that Dr. Lee knowingly included inauthentic data in his grant application to NIH. Pursuant to NIH policy, PIs are required to provide a signed assurance when submitting a grant application to the NIH that certifies the truth, completeness and accuracy of the information in the application. Dr. Lee signed the PI assurance for the grant application and confirmed that he had reviewed and approved the application. A fellow in Dr. Lee’s laboratory conducted the underlying experiments for certain figures included in the grant application, but the fellow no longer worked for Dr. Lee at the time that he submitted the application. The United States contends that Dr. Lee altered the experiment descriptions in two of the figures, falsifying the results of the experiments, and that Dr. Lee falsified a third figure by horizontally flipping the image and thus mislabeling the results in the application.

Acting U.S. Attorney Mendell and HHS-OIG SAC Coyne made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica J. Weber of Mendell’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Unit handled the matter.

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