USC Unaware Of Whistleblower Lawsuit against Cancer Researcher Charles Bennett (UPDATE)By Staff Reporter
University of South Carolina (USC) authorities claim that they were unaware of the allegations Dr. Charles Bennett was facing when they hired him in 2010.
On Wednesday, Northwestern University (the former school at which Bennett taught) agreed to pay nearly $3 million to the federal government to settle a 2009 whistle blower lawsuit that accused Bennett of misusing federal grants worth $8 million. The lawsuit blamed the University for allowing Bennett to submit false claims under grants from the National Institutes of Health.
Bennett is now a tenured professor and also the director of the Center for Medication Safety and Efficacy at the South Carolina College of Pharmacy. The pharmaceutical researcher earns $251,701 annually, including an additional $40,000 from a USC foundation. The university claims that they had no clue about Bennett's previous criminal records.
"We were not aware of the lawsuit and his background check came back clean," said Wes Hickman USC spokesman.
At the time of the alleged fraud, Bennett was the lead researcher on a project funded by the National Institutes of Health. Federal authorities said that he used the grant money for several professional and consulting services, hotels, food and airfare expenses for himself, family and friends between January 2003 and August 2010.
Bennett used the money for a few weekly trips and paid nearly $250,000 to his consultants, which was not part of the grant budget proposal.
The USC authorities said that they will now be reviewing his grant accounts.
"We take the stewardship of external grant funds and compliance with all government rules very seriously," said the school told The State. "We have appropriate oversight in place, but in light of (Wednesday's) release we will conduct a review of the faculty member's research grant accounts to ensure all is in order here."
Hickman said that when hiring employees, the authorities normally looks in to criminal history and conducts criminal background checks.
"Questions about civil issues would only arise if during our review process we find some indication there may be a problem," Hickman said.
The U.S. attorney's office in northern Illinois said that Bennett could be sued for triple damages and fined up to $11,000 for each violation if the civil lawsuit is proven.