Whistle-Blower Loses Job After Exposing Federal Grant Fraud – And Perp Walks Away Scott Free!

Posted on December 10, 2012

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For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

Luke 8:17

Kentucky (The Gaslamp Post) -A whistle-blower at the University of Kentucky is out of a job after reporting that his boss had defrauded the American tax-payer.  William Everson, a research scientist who had been with the university since 2003, was assisting a lab technician in 2009 when he discovered some information on a grant application that didn’t make sense.

Dr. Eric Smart, Chair of Barnstable-Brown Pediatric Laboratories, in his lab on the UK campus in Lexington in December 2007.

Dr. Eric Smart, former vice-chair of the Barnstable-Brown Pediatrics Lab. Image Herald-Leader

Everson’s former boss, Dr. Eric Smart, former vice-chair of Barnstable-Brown Pediatric Laboratory located on the University of Kentucky campus, is alleged to have falsified findings, fudged numbers, and outright made things up for over a decade.  Smart’s bogus data has found it’s way into at least 10 published papers, and he is believed to have used fraudulent information on numerous government grants for federal funding.

The lab in which Smart and Everson were working was doing research in childhood diabetes, and in 2009, Everson had to review a grant application for some work that the team was doing.  He noted that there was data provided referring to “knockout” mice (special mice with specific traits bred out of them) that they had used on an application from 2005.

The problem was that the genetically altered mice didn’t arrive to the lab until 2007 or 2008.

His findings prompted him to send an email to the dean of the College of Medicine at the University of Kentucky, Jay Perman.  This email sparked two separate investigations by the university as well as one by federal authorities.

All three investigations concluded that the data about the mice that Smart had used on the grant application was made up, and from there had “spiraled” off to numerous other papers, progress reports, and other applications.  The fraud also affects the reputations of other under-grad and graduate students who were performing research with Smart.

A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare.

Proverbs 21:6

Smart, who reportedly drew a salary of $164,00, was suspended during the investigation and left the university in May.  He joined the university in 1996 as a doctoral researcher in the physiology department.  In 2000, he landed a $1 Million grant from the federal government, his first of several more which are reported to have totaled $8 Million.

Although not admitting guilt, Smart has voluntarily signed an agreement debarring himself from any research or pursuit of federal grants for 7 years.  Charges have not been filed in the case, and he has yet to be ordered to pay any sort of restitution.

“It’s a slap in the face to all good scientists when it happens anywhere because it does erode confidence in what we do,” said university vice-president of research, Jim Tracy.  “Obviously if people have been involved in a piece of research, and they’ve been honest, they’re damaged,” he said. “It’s particularly bad for graduate students (whose research is just getting started).”

Smart is now reportedly a high school chemistry teacher at Bourbon County High School.  He still denies any wrong doing and blames Everson for the fraud that was uncovered, according to Superintendent Lana Fryman.

“His (Smart’s) explanation was that Mr. Everson, who worked in that department with him, is the one who did it,” said Superintendent Fryman.  “He wanted to be named as department chair and was very upset that he wasn’t.”

The research lab is now gone, closed down after the investigation.  All 13 of the researchers have been let go, including Everson.   “The system is badly broken,” wrote Everson in an email.  “I doubt anyone cares about what happened to me; but there is value in telling the story ‘for the next person’ who finds the unthinkable has happened, and they too are compelled by professional ethics, federal statutes and of course, conscience, to act.”

Academia is no stranger to fraud.  In 2006, 6 grad students at the University of Wisconsin Madison came forward after they discovered their mentor, Elizabeth Goodwin had been manipulating data which was compromising their research.  She resigned from the university amid the scandal in 2006, and pleaded guilty in 2010 to a criminal charge of falsifying information on a government grant.  She was ordered debarred for 3 years and to pay restitution of $50,000 to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Also in 2006, another researcher was sentenced to a year in federal prison following his alleged federal grant fraud.  Researcher Eric Poehlman admitted in a plea deal to falsifying at least 15 federal grant applications dating back to 1999.  He also admitted to using false information in at least 10 published articles which began in 1992 while working as a researcher at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and even before that while employed at the University of Maryland.