Bennett's attorney, James McGurk, said Thursday his client denies the government's allegations but settled to avoid the cost of going to trial.
“There are many, many specific details that we vehemently disagree with, but the cost of going through and denying every one of those for what amounts to bookkeeping issues just would not be worthwhile,” McGurk said.
He added that there's been no suggestion that Bennett's scientific work is flawed or unsound. Bennett continues to author studies in publications such the Journal of Clinical Oncology in his current work as a professor at the University of South Carolina, his attorney said.
Al Cubbage, vice president of university relations for Northwestern University, also noted in a statement at the time of the university's 2013 payment to the government that the settlement involved no findings or admissions of wrongful conduct by Northwestern.
“The University was nonetheless disappointed to see the allegations in the complaint because they are at odds with the University's commitment to a culture of compliance in the administration of federal research grants,” Cubbage said in the Northwestern statement.
The government lawsuit against Bennett, filed in January, alleged that the physician submitted false claims under grants from the National Institutes of Health meant for research projects involving adverse drug events, multiple myeloma drugs, the blood disorder thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura and quality of care for cancer patients. Bennett allegedly billed those grants for family trips, meals and hotels for himself and friends and consulting fees for his brother and cousin, according to the government.
Whistle-blower Melissa Theis, originally made the allegations in a lawsuit filed in 2009. Theis worked as a purchasing coordinator in hematology and oncology at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine.
In successful lawsuits, whistle-blowers are entitled to a percentage of what the government is able to recover. Theis will receive $80,750 from the settlement with Bennett, and she has already received $498,100 from the settlement with Northwestern, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago.
Though the settlement with Bennett ends the litigation, it reserves the right of any federal agency, including HHS, to take administrative action such as barring Bennett from receiving future research grants, according to the Chicago U.S. Attorney's Office.
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