Danish scientist indicted in US
FRIDAY, 15 APRIL 2011 13:55 BH NEWS
Autism researcher accused of embezzling $1 million
American prosecutors are seeking to extradite a Danish scientist who a federal grand jury in Atlanta has charged with 13 counts of wire fraud and nine counts of money laundering. They allege that Poul Thorsen, 49, stole over $1 million from autism research funding between February 2004 and June 2008, and used the proceeds to buy a home in Atlanta, two cars and a Harley Davidson.
Thorsen helped two Danish government agencies obtain research grants, which amounted to $11 million between 2000 and 2009, whilst he was working as a visiting scientist at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the 1990s. He returned to Denmark as the ‘principal investigator’ for the programme, which studied the relationship between autism and exposure to vaccines, allegedly putting him in charge of the administration of the funding.
It is alleged that over the four-year period he submitted over a dozen false invoices from the CDC for research expenses to Aarhus University, where he held a faculty position, instructing them to transfer the funds to a CDC account, which was in fact his personal account.
“Grant money for disease research is a precious commodity,” noted Sally Quillian Yates, from the US Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Georgia, in a news release. “When grant funds are stolen, we lose not only the money, but also the opportunity to better understand and cure debilitating diseases.”
It was while Thorsen was working in the 1990s at the CDC division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities that the CDC started soliciting grant applications for research into the relationships between autism and exposure to vaccines, cerebral palsy and infection during pregnancy, and childhood development and fetal alcohol exposure. Thorsen saw an opportunity to promote his homeland and played a central role in winning the grant.
Thorsen’s research on autism is widely known in academic circles, where he was until this week a highly respected figure. A paper of his on the subject, which is known as ‘The Danish Study’, is quoted extensively to refute the autism vaccine connection.
Each count of wire fraud carries a maximum of 20 years in prison and each count of money laundering a maximum of 10 years in prison, with a fine of up to $250,000 for each count. The federal government will also seeks forfeiture of all property derived from the alleged offenses.