USC professor fighting accusations of misusing grant money

ashain@thestate.comDecember 12, 2013 

Charles Bennett

— Charles Bennett, a top pharmaceutical researcher at the University of South Carolina, said Thursday he continues to fight accusations that he misused grant money at his former school even though a court filing suggests that case has been settled.

Bennett said his work — examining potentially dangerous side effects of drugs and medical equipment — has cost companies millions of dollars and made him a target.

“I am one of the biggest watchdogs in the country,” Bennett told The State. “Name a pharmaceutical company, and I have gone against it. I have no friends.”

Bennett said he has received a clean bill from a USC-ordered review of his Columbia grant accounts. That review was launched after news of a whistleblower lawsuit against Bennett broke in August.

USC said the internal review is not finalized but no issues have been found. Bennett remains on USC’s faculty, earning $251,701 a year. But his research staff of six could lose their jobs because money for their work is running out, USC spokesman Wes Hickman said. Bennett heads one of 51 state-sponsored research centers that aim to boost South Carolina’s economy.

The four-year-old lawsuit against Bennett was settled last week, according to a filing in an Illinois federal court. No details were available though a hearing is scheduled for Jan. 8.

Bennett said he is unaware of any settlement or negotiations.

Bennett said he still is fighting the lawsuit, which did not become public until his former employer, Northwestern University, agreed in August to pay $2.9 million to the government.

The suit was sealed until that settlement, and Bennett said he was unaware of his involvement in the lawsuit until this summer.

In the suit, federal authorities accused Bennett of using grant money on personal travel and consulting fees paid to “unqualified friends and family members.”

Bennett denied using money for family trips. “We have used the grants the way we’re supposed to.”

He said he hired his brother and cousin for work on a website at Northwestern with the school’s approval.

Bennett said the lawsuit against him stemmed from a complaint that he filed with Northwestern about the handling of his grants.

“When I got into this (field), I knew there would bumps in the road,” he said. “I just didn’t know when they would come.”

Northwestern and the U.S. attorney’s office in Illinois declined comment Thursday.

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