NIH Researcher Avoids Prison Time in Ethics Scandal

You may have been following, as I have, the legal troubles of Dr. Trey Sunderland, a leading Alzheimer's researcher at National Institutes of Health (NIH) who earned almost $300,000 from Pfizer in consulting fees while overseeing the company at the agency.

In a move made by federal officials, I suspect, to limit the attention and public outcry, a federal judge in Baltimore handed down a watered-down sentence -- 400 hours of community service and a $300,000 fine -- to Sunderland the Friday before the start of the Christmas holiday break for many Americans.

The reasons federal prosecutors made an example out of Sunderland: He was a supervisor at the agency's research center and his financial relationship with Pfizer was a "long-standing" one. That said, much of the money Sunderland accepted might've been legal to accept -- albeit unethical -- but not a crime, had he disclosed those payments.

Sunderland escaped a felony conviction and jail time, however, because prosecutors believed the scientist didn't change the results of his research merely because of his relationship with Pfizer. And, he remains a NIH employee, for now anyway...

No wonder more patients are taking more responsibility for their health every day, considering those who do typically have better outcomes than those who don't.

Baltimore Sun December 23, 2006

Los Angeles Times December 23, 2006 Registration Required

MSNBC December 22, 2006