Relator “at point of spear” receives large whistleblower recovery

“This is a difficult moment for Duke.”

So said Duke University president Vincent E. Price recently concerning his school’s central involvement in a major whistleblowing case grounded in research fraud.

That matter was formally settled early last week following a hearing in federal court.

The result, as noted in a National Public Radio article: Duke is now on the hook to the federal government in the amount of $112.5 million “to settle accusations that it submitted bogus data to win federal research grants.”

The fraud likely would never have been detected or compensated for absent the bold and intimate involvement of a former Duke laboratory analyst. That individual came forward to report massive research misconduct committed over several years. He filed a lawsuit on behalf of the government after he became convinced that university officials were not responding sufficiently to what they knew concerning the fraud’s scope.

In many such instances, the federal government will intervene in a case first brought by a so-called “qui tam” whistleblower (sometimes termed a relator) on its behalf. Notably, the government did not do that in the Duke matter. Spokespersons for the ex-analyst sated that its lack of involvement left him isolated “at the point of the spear” in a battle against “a venerated academic institution with enormous resources.”

Eventually the facts won out, with the relator being awarded a full 30% recovery in the amount reclaimed from Duke. That amounts to $33.75 million.