AIDS researcher Jeffrey Parsons-Hietikko used grants to fund lavish lifestyle



Jeffrey T. Parsons-Hietikko, a outstanding HIV/AIDS researcher who resigned a distinguished professorship in 2019 after a debaucherous work-related social gathering, improperly used federal analysis funds to complement himself and take lavish scuba-diving journeys within the Cayman Islands, Fiji and Belize, amongst different places, in accordance with newly unsealed court docket paperwork.

Below the circumstances of a settlement order, Parsons has agreed to pay the federal authorities $375,000. Moreover, the Metropolis College of New York’s Hunter Faculty, from which Parsons-Hietikko resigned, can pay the federal government $200,000, admitting that the college paid the psychology professor retention bonuses with federal analysis {dollars} and did not disclose this.

The settlement concludes an investigation that started when Devin English, who labored as a researcher below Parsons-Hietikko, filed a grievance below seal in 2019. English, who’s now an assistant professor at Rutgers College, served as a whistleblower to the U.S. lawyer’s workplace within the Southern District of New York, which alleged that Parsons and Hunter had violated the False Claims Act.

Jeffrey Lichtman, Parsons-Hietikko’s lawyer, informed The Publish 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 against the law. 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. lawyer.

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 Heart for HIV/AIDS Instructional Research and Coaching, generally known as 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 unbuttoned one worker’s pants and lifted one other’s shirt throughout a karaoke competitors. An out of doors investigator concluded that, primarily based on the preponderance of proof, Parsons had violated the college’s sexual-harassment coverage and its drug-and-alcohol coverage.

An investigation by The Chronicle of Greater Training discovered that the college had did not meaningfully examine quite a few complaints about Parsons within the decade main as much as the social gathering, which was generally known as “CHESTFest.”

The settlement order assigns accountability to each Parsons and Hunter College for years of ruses that allowed Parsons to journey the world at authorities expense and host alcohol-fueled occasions. The faculty accepted using federal grant cash to pay for Parsons’s scuba-diving adventures in unique locales, which Parsons claimed have 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 outdoors initiatives with non-public shoppers.

To retain Parsons, who mentioned he was courted by different universities, the faculty used grant cash to cowl $90,000 in bonuses to the professor. However the school didn’t disclose this to NIH and as an alternative reported that the cash had been spent on “organized analysis,” authorities attorneys mentioned.

Via an affiliated non-public basis, Parsons was granted entry to a discretionary account that was created with the “categorical goal” of paying for “bills, comparable to alcohol” that may not be allowable below NIH guidelines, in accordance with the federal government’s complaint. Discussing the account with Hunter directors in an e-mail, Parsons wrote, “we have been informed years in the past” that the suitable “code” to make use of when billing alcohol was “help for skilled growth/networking.”

Parsons 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 inside investigation carried out by the faculty revealed that Parsons “had misused NIH-funded CHEST employees to generate revenue for himself,” the grievance mentioned. The findings have been shared with the president, however Hunter “did not 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 position 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.”

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