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Whiteheaad Institute reimburses NIH

By Brian Rosenberg

On April 6, the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research sent a $68,966 check to the National Institutes of Health to reimburse them for legal costs incurred by David Baltimore '61 during his term as Whitehead director. The institute had wrongly billed the NIH for the money in 1988.

The funds were used "on matters relating to" a 1986 paper by Baltimore and others that appeared in the journal Cell. The article's findings were questioned soon after its publication, and by 1988, Whitehead had hired Washington-based lawyers and lobbyists in what Boston Globe sources said was an attempt to influence a congressional committee investigating Baltimore.

Last month the NIH concluded in a draft report that Thereza Imanishi-Kari, who wrote the article with Baltimore, had fabricated data. The report did not accuse Baltimore of fraud, though it called his continued defense of Imanishi-Kari "difficult to comprehend." Imanishi-Kari, now at the Tufts University School of Medicine, was working at the Center for Cancer Research at the time. Baltimore is currently president of Rockefeller University.

The institute denied that its payments were used for lobbying on Baltimore's behalf. According to the Globe, however, two of the law firms hired by Whitehead are registered as paid lobbyists with Congress, and members of at least one firm met with Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), who heads the committee that has been investigating Baltimore.

Whitehead admits error in letter to HHS

Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services began investigating the institute's expenditures early this month. In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services obtained by the Globe, Whitehead officials admitted that "a total of $114,943 of expenses related to the matter of the Cell paper were erroneously included in the 1988 report."

The letter also indicated that Baltimore had "clearly directed the administration of the [Whitehead] Institute to exclude these costs from the indirect cost pool."

According to a statement released by the Whitehead Institute, "the inclusion of those charges was an error on the part of the Whitehead Administration, made only in 1988. Similar costs were properly excluded in 1989 and subsequently."

John Pratt, director of Whitehead's office of administration, said, "We felt we needed legal counsel [during the investigation]. [Baltimore] felt that given the subject matter, [the costs] should be excluded."

Health and Human Services is continuing its probe into the institute, and has asked for information on public relations and legal fees for 1988 and 1989.

Professor of Biology Gerald R. Fink, current director of Whitehead, released a statement indicating that he "has ordered a complete reevaluation of the institute's policies and procedures with respect to indirect costs to insure complete compliance with the letter and spirit of government regulations."

The Whitehead Institute calculated the figure of $68,966 using its formulas for billing indirect costs to the federal government. Abuses of indirect costs at several universities, including Harvard and Stanford, are currently the subject of a Justice Department investigation. Sources close to the investigation have indicated that MIT may soon be investigated.

Of the $114,000 spent by the Whitehead on legal fees, $100,000 went to Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, and Feld, a Washington-based law firm that is registered as a lobbying firm in Congress, the Globe reported. Rep. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of Dingell's committee, told the Globe he recalled being lobbied about the Baltimore case by a member of that firm.

Whitehead also paid over $12,000 to the Boston firm where Baltimore's lawyer, Normand Smith, works.