The Institute for Cancer Prevention (IFCP), formerly the American Health Foundation, was hailed (in a press release by New York Senator Charles Schumer) as "the only National Cancer Institute designated cancer center exclusively devoted to cancer prevention research." The Institute was described in a New York Post article (not on the web, Edelman S. Cancer scandal: bankrupt institute blew $5M. NY Post, Oct 3, 2004.):
Known for its early research linking smoking and cancer, the IFCP was the only government-supported center that focused solely on prevention.
It was respected for groundbreaking work on how diet can prevent cancer, touting the benefits of soy, garlic, zinc, tea and low-fat foods.
The institute boasted Rudy Giuliani as guest speaker at its last fund-raising gala, and Bill Clinton came to accept an award given to his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Whoopi Goldberg hosted an event in 1998.
In February, Sen. Chuck Schumer called IFCP 'one of the world's very best research facilities.'
But in 2004, the Institute abruptly and unexpectedly declared bankruptcy, again per the NY Post,
Financial problems cropped up in 2000 when the institute had to repay the government's National Cancer Institute $4 million in overspent grants.
But the problems continued, culminating in a terse letter to [ICFP President Dr Daniel] Nixon from the institute on Sept. 9.
The letter, written by NCI grant manager Leo Buscher, said the IFCP 'improperly withdrew $5.7 million and inappropriately used those funds for non-grant-related expenses.'
He told The Post the funds should have been used only for researcher salaries, animals and lab supplies, but were diverted to cover the institute's overhead expenses.
'It was a surprise it had gotten so bad and so big,' Buscher said of the overspending.
Increasingly generous executive pay and high rent were biting into the institute's $18 million budget.
Nixon raked in $403,000 in salary and benefits in 2002, according to the latest tax returns filed.
A half-dozen other managers and consultants got $150,000 to $286,000 a year, the records show.
Last year, the institute left a cramped office on the East Side near 42nd Street and leased 15,000 square feet at the Gorham Building on Fifth Avenue and 36th Street.
A subsequent NY Post story suggested that the Institute's President lived the good life at Institute expense while the money was being diverted (not on the web, Edelman S. Wine-&-Dine cancer doc; his institute hits bottom $. NY Post, Oct 10, 2004.)
Dr. Daniel Nixon, a noted cancer doctor whose patients included Jimmy Carter's mom and Atlanta Braves players, was living high as New York's prestigious Institute for Cancer Prevention collapsed around him, The Post has learned.
Nixon, 61, the IFCP president who was paid more than $400,000 a year, enjoyed a full-time chauffeur and leased a car at the institute's expense.
A nutritionist who touted raspberries and strawberries to prevent certain cancers, Nixon jetted around the country to wine and dine 'potential donors,' said sources familiar with his expense vouchers.
Note that the bankruptcy of the Institute was covered in a news item in Science. As far as I can tell, it was never covered in the national media, particularly in the NY Times or the Washington Post, or in any medical or health care journals.
In early 2007, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced a settlement:
Michael J. Garcia, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that Dr. Daniel Nixon, former president of the Institute for Cancer Prevention ('IFCP'), IFCP’s former officers, and the former members of IFCP’s Board of Trustees have agreed to pay $2,300,000 to resolve civil False Claims Act charges and any other civil claim arising from IFCP’s alleged unlawful receipt and use of federal grant money. In addition, Tatum, LLC ('Tatum'), a financial services firm, has agreed to pay $400,000 to resolve civil claims arising from its services to IFCP. Finally, Weiser, LLP ('Weiser'), IFCP’s outside auditor, has agreed to pay $500,000 to resolve negligence claims relating to its audits of IFCP.
The settlement acknowledged:
During calendar years 2002 and 2003, however, IFCP drew down approximately $5 million of federal grant money to pay bills that were not eligible for reimbursement under its federal grants. In addition, IFCP submitted false financial reports regarding its draw downs to the United States Department of Health and Human Services ('HHS').
But of course,
The settlement does not release any of the parties for any violation of the criminal laws. None of the parties making payments under the settlement agreement has admitted any liability or wrongdoing in connection with the settlement.
As far as I can tell, the settlement received no local, much less national news coverage.
What brought all this to my attention was yesterday's AP story (in Newsday).
A bankrupt cancer research center's former finance chief has admitted lying to FBI agents investigating whether the institution misused federal money.
'I am truly sorry, and I accept responsibility,' Roy Victor said as he pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court Wednesday to obstruction of justice. He faces a possibility of up to 10 years in prison at his sentencing, set for April 18.
Victor, 44, was the Institute for Cancer Prevention's chief financial officer from November 2001 to May 2003. Federal authorities started questioning him in November 2004, two months after the Valhalla-based institute filed for bankruptcy. Federal auditors had found that the research center had improperly sought to use grant money for expenses not related to the grant's purpose, according to court papers.
Victor acknowledged lying when he told federal investigators the institute had not submitted false statements to hide improper requests to draw on $6 million in Health and Human Services Department grants.
This sad tale illustrates what I suspect is an all too common phenomenon. In a go-go, get rich quick, narcissistic culture, in an economy in which health care has become a $2 trillion a year "industry," and in a business climate that worships the "imperial CEO," many respected health care organizations and institutions have been taken over by the wrong sort of people. Their leaders often at best have no understanding or sympathy for the health care mission and health care ethics. At worst, some of their leaders are criminal (see, for example, Mr Victor above) and corrupt. Leaders interested first in short-term financial gain and lining their own pockets are weakening, and in this case of the Institute for Cancer Prevention, have destroyed, some of our best and most revered health care institutions.
Until we make the governance of health care organizations more transparent, accountable, ethical, and respectful of the organizations' missions, things will continue to go down hill. And until physicians, policy makers and the public become aware of the damage being done by ignorant, conflicted and corrupt leadership of health care organizations, nothing will be done at all.
ADDENDUM (5 January, 2008) - Also see more background, links, and comments in this post on the Junkfood Science blog.