March 25, 2019 The law firms of:
- Gentry Locke, P.O. Box 40013, Roanoke, Virginia, 24022; Attn. Matt Broughton, Esq., 540-520-8510; [email protected];
- Healy Hafemann Magee & Thomas, P.O. Box 8877, Roanoke, Virginia, 24014; Attn. John R. Thomas, Esq., 540-759-1660; [email protected]; and
- Brooks Pierce, P.O. Box 26000, Greensboro, N.C., 27420; Attn. D.J. O’Brien, Esq., 336-271-3194; [email protected]
are pleased to announce a settlement in the landmark False Claims Act case of: United States ex rel. Thomas v. Duke University, Case No.: 1:17-cv-276-CCE-JLW, United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. On Monday, March 25, 2019, Mr. Thomas, Duke and the Government presented a settlement agreement among the parties to Judge Catherine Eagles of the Middle District of North Carolina, by which Duke will pay $112,500,000.
Billions of dollars in government-funded science is performed in university laboratories across the United States. From 2005 through March 2013, a Duke employee in the pulmonary division falsified and fabricated the results of experiments to produce reported results that favored the hypotheses being tested. This was discovered by Duke’s administration in the spring of 2013. As a research analyst in Duke’s pulmonary division, Joseph Thomas witnessed the fall-out and response as Duke’s administration and researchers faced the reality that seven years of data were false or unreliable.
His concerns about the extent of the fraud, how Duke was responding, and the lack of transparency, caused him to transition from regular employee to whistleblower. Many employees like Mr. Thomas pass by fraud every day, but fail to act either because they are intimidated by the circumstances or because they are unaware of the legal options available to them. The False Claims Act was implemented to allow regular citizens like Mr. Thomas to make a difference.
The Act essentially deputizes citizens to act as attorney generals to report and prosecute claims of fraud against the government – which otherwise lacks the means of effectively policing the behavior of those who participate in the vast amount of taxpayer dollars provided by the United States.
Here, Mr. Thomas was willing to put himself in harms’ way and he consulted with us early in the process. Mr. Thomas’ scientific work in sorting through the many impacted grants and experiments was invaluable. With his help, we prepared a False Claim Act (or Qui Tam) lawsuit that was then filed under seal and reported to the government – allowing the government an opportunity to investigate. In many meritorious cases, the government decides to “intervene” at that stage of the proceedings, basically taking over the lead of the case. But here, that never happened.
This left Mr. Thomas and his lawyers at the point of the spear – going against a venerated academic institution with enormous resources. During this process, Mr. Thomas was vilified and suffered substantial personal hardships as he found himself out of work for over a year. Many would have yielded under this pressure, but Thomas held firm and maintained faith in the merits of the case and his legal team. Six years later, after enduring great personal and professional hardship, Mr. Thomas’ courageous actions have come to a conclusion, with Duke agreeing to pay $112,500,000 to the United States to settle these claims. This is the largest False Claim Act recovery for research grant fraud in history. Research fraud has tremendous repercussions and it should be reported. We wish to extend our deepest respect to Joseph Thomas for his strength of character, tenacity and hard work that made this result possible; and, we wish to say for the record: “You did the right thing!”
We are also deeply proud of the trial team that prosecuted this case with skill, creativity, and resolute persistence. The case involved extraordinarily complicated science, mastery of volumes of documents, 52 depositions, and numerous complicated motions – all of which required great focus and hard work.