The settlement concludes an investigation that started when Devin English, who labored as a researcher underneath Parsons-Hietikko, filed a grievance underneath seal in 2019. English, who’s now an assistant professor at Rutgers College, served as a whistleblower to the U.S. legal professional’s workplace within the Southern District of New York, which alleged that Parsons-Hietikko and Hunter had violated the False Claims Act.
Jeffrey Lichtman, Parsons-Hietikko’s lawyer, instructed The Put up in an e-mail that “There was by no means any intent by Dr. Parsons to defraud the federal authorities — which is why he was by no means charged with a criminal offense. He’s settled this civil matter now and put it behind him.”
Hunter Faculty didn’t reply on Saturday to an e-mail requesting remark. Neither did the U.S. legal professional.
Parsons-Hietikko was a rainmaker for Hunter Faculty, securing an estimated $55 million from the Nationwide Institutes of Well being between 1996-2018. As director of the Middle for HIV/AIDS Academic Research and Coaching, often called CHEST, the professor was amongst a pioneering group of lecturers who labored to stem the unfold of HIV.
However his profession got here tumbling down in 2018 after a celebration at New York’s iconic Stonewall Inn, the place, in accordance with witnesses, Parsons-Hietikko unbuttoned one worker’s pants and lifted one other’s shirt throughout a karaoke competitors. An out of doors investigator concluded that, based mostly on the preponderance of proof, Parsons-Hietikko had violated the college’s sexual harassment coverage and its drug-and-alcohol coverage.
An investigation by The Chronicle of Larger Schooling discovered that the college had didn’t meaningfully examine quite a few complaints about Parsons-Hietikko within the decade main as much as the social gathering, which was often called “CHESTFest.”
The settlement order assigns accountability to each Parsons-Hietikko and Hunter Faculty for years of ruses that allowed Parsons-Hietikko to journey the world at authorities expense and host alcohol-fueled occasions. The faculty permitted using federal grant cash to pay for Parsons-Hietikko’s scuba-diving adventures in unique locales, which Parsons-Hietikko claimed had been for analysis. However he by no means produced any paperwork that demonstrated any analysis truly occurred, in accordance with the settlement.
Along with unauthorized journeys, the settlement states that the faculty improperly used NIH funds to pay CHEST workers for work on exterior initiatives with personal shoppers.
To retain Parsons-Hietikko, who mentioned he was courted by different universities, the faculty used grant cash to cowl $90,000 in bonuses to the professor. However the faculty didn’t disclose this to NIH and as a substitute reported that the cash had been spent on “organized analysis,” authorities attorneys mentioned.
By means of an affiliated personal basis, Parsons-Hietikko was granted entry to a discretionary account that was created with the “categorical goal” of paying for “bills, similar to alcohol” that might not be allowable underneath NIH guidelines, in accordance with the federal government’s grievance. Discussing the account with Hunter directors in an e-mail, Parsons-Hietikko wrote, “we had been instructed years in the past” that the suitable “code” to make use of when billing alcohol was “help for skilled improvement/networking.”
Parsons-Hietikko had a “direct line” to Hunter Faculty’s president, Jennifer J. Raab, in accordance with the grievance. Within the fallout from the 2018 “CHESTFest,” an inner investigation performed by the faculty revealed that Parsons-Hietikko “had misused NIH-funded CHEST workers to generate earnings for himself,” the grievance mentioned. The findings had been shared with the president, however Hunter “didn’t take any motion” or report the fraud to NIH. The college introduced in December that Raab will step down as president in June.
English, the Rutgers professor, is entitled to $120,750 from the payouts for his function as a whistleblower. He mentioned in an announcement he would donate the cash to “group organizations truly doing the work to finish the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”