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Photo of Columbia University to Pay $9 Million to Settle Allegations of False Claims in Connection With AIDS/HIV-Related Grant
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Columbia University to Pay $9 Million to Settle Allegations of False Claims in Connection With AIDS/HIV-Related Grant

Press Release
October 30, 2014

Hodgson Russ Attorney Daniel Oliverio Represents Whistleblower in One of the Largest-Ever HHS Grant Fraud Cases Against a University

In a settlement approved by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, the trustees of Columbia University together with ICAP, a Columbia- affiliated public health program, admitted to submitting inaccurate information related to salary and wage charges in connection with a U.S. Health & Human Services (HHS) grant intended to fund ICAP’s work in the area of AIDS/HIV. Columbia agreed to pay $9,020,073 in damages and penalties to settle the allegations of false claims lodged against the university by the U.S. government under the False Claims Act, making it one of the largest-ever HHS grant fraud cases against an institution of higher education.

A Hodgson Russ team led by Daniel C. Oliverio, and including John L. Sinatra, Jr., Reetuparna (Reena) Dutta, and Margaret M. Cmielewski, represented the whistleblower who alerted the government of the grant fraud. A subsequent investigation revealed that the university, as administrator of the $125 million Multi-Country Columbia Antiretroviral Program (MCAP) grant it received through the federal President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief program, failed to verify that ICAP was charging the grant only for work its employees performed in service of approved projects, resulting in significant overcharges to the U.S. government. For example, ICAP falsely charged MCAP for 85 percent of one employee’s salary, despite that employee dedicating only 15-20 percent of his time to MCAP-funded projects.

When asked to comment on the case, Dan said, “As a result of our participation as relator’s counsel, we have a keen understanding of the complexities of government grant administration as well as familiarity with the anatomy of government grant administration lawsuits. We believe this experience will prove to be a boon to our many university clients and our private clients who receive government research grants, as we are now in an even better position to help them achieve full government grant compliance.”

As stipulated by the False Claims Act, the whistleblower represented by Hodgson Russ will receive a portion of the settlement proceeds. The whistleblower, who has since been terminated from his position at Columbia, has also retained Hodgson Russ as counsel in a pending retaliation claim against the university.