A professor at Stony Brook University in New York was arrested Thursday for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for cancer research and using it on personal expenses, including mortgage payments on his house, federal prosecutors announced.
Geoffrey Girnun, 48, was arrested and charged with wire fraud and money laundering after he allegedly stole more than $200,000 in federal and state grant money over four years, the New York U.S. Attorney’s Office said. To secure the funds from the National Institutes of Health, the associate professor at Stony Brook’s School of Medicine submitted fake invoices for research equipment from sham companies, according to prosecutors.
“Professor Girnun’s alleged theft of federal and state grant funds earmarked for cancer research can be explained in two words: pure greed,” United States Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a press release announcing the charges.
Girnun pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon in Long Island federal court and was was released on a $250,000 bond. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors allege Girnun created two shell companies, Atlas Metabolomics and Empyrean Biosciences, in 2013 and claimed they were providing research materials and equipment for his cancer-related research projects.
“Girnun then submitted fraudulent electronic invoices to SBU for payment to the companies for equipment, goods and services that were never received or provided,” the indictment filed in the U.S. Eastern District of New York states.
The school used more than $200,000 of internal grant funds and money it had received from the National Institutes of Health to pay his shell companies between 2013 and 2017, the indictment alleges.
Once the school made the payments, prosecutors allege, Girnun allegedly transferred the funds to his personal bank accounts to pay off several personal expenses. Some of those expenses included “payments toward the mortgage on his home,” the indictment alleges.
“As millions of Americans place their faith in programs established to fund cancer-related research, Geoffrey Girnun, a professor, allegedly siphoned money from grant funds established for this very purpose,” William Sweeny, FBI assistant director-in-charge, said. “While people continued to suffer from their illnesses, Girnun made payments toward his personal mortgage with the money he stole. His conduct is despicable, and it won’t be tolerated.”
The National Institute of Health is the primary agency of the government “responsible for research grant funding and conducting biomedical and public research.” According to the school, the medical institute “conducts $90 million in funded research annually, with National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsored research programs in neurological diseases, cancer” and other topics.
According to the university’s website, Girnun started as an associate professor of pathology at Stony Brook in 2013 after working at the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at the University of Maryland. The 48-year-old’s research focuses on the “metabolic control of hepatocellular carcinoma by PGC1 alpha, and he is also investigating PPAR gamma coactivation in obesity and colon cancer,” according to the website.
In addition to his faculty position, Girnun served as the director of cancer metabolomics for the Cancer Center.
Founded in 1957, Stony Brook University is one of only four campuses in the State University of New York (SUNY) system with more than 26,000 students and 2,600 faculty members. The school is among the top 62 research institutions in North America, and the Renaissance School of Medicine is the number one ranked public medical institute in New York state.
“The University is outraged and appalled by the allegations that led to the arrest of Geoffrey Girnun today,” a university spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “This alleged behavior is absolutely contrary to the ethical and professional standards expected of our faculty.”
The spokesperson added Girnun has been placed on administrative leave.
Girnun’s lawyer did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.