Donna Shalala Overlooked UM Psychiatrist's Ethical Lapses Thanks to Promised Funding, Report Says

Donna Shalala's month keeps getting worse. Fresh off a public flogging over failing to sniff out Nevin Shapiro, the University of Miami prez allowed a shady, drug-company-funded professor to be hired as psychiatry department chair because new funding was on the line, according to a new report in i>Forbes this morning.

Dr. Charles Nemeroff inspired a full congressional inquiry at his previous job at Emory University by taking hundreds of thousands in unreported payouts from drug companies, all while managing a huge federal grant to research the same firms' drugs. Now at UM, he's back to making big bank from Big Pharma, Forbes says.

Nemeroff was "one of the most influential psychiatrists" on the planet, according to the New York Times, when he was first busted for his seedy drug company ties in 2008.

While at Emory, he made more than $2.8 million consulting for pharmaceutical firms and failed to report at least $1.2 million. That inspired Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa to open a full congressional probe into his dealings, which turned up nuggets such as this one, via the New York Times:

In one telling example, Dr. Nemeroff signed a letter dated July 15, 2004, promising Emory administrators that he would earn less than $10,000 a year from GlaxoSmithKline to comply with federal rules. But on that day, he was at the Four Seasons Resort in Jackson Hole, Wyo., earning $3,000 of what would become $170,000 in income that year from that company -- 17 times the figure he had agreed on.

Amid Grassley's inquiry and outrage at Emory, UM offered Nemeroff a lifeline by hiring him as head of the psychiatry department.

Why would the university do that? Forbes's story, written by Grassley's lead investigator, Paul Thacker, fills in the blanks thanks to leaked UM emails.

As UM debated whether to hire the ethically challenged researcher, Nemeroff "sweetened the deal," according to Forbes, by promising to bring a new donor to the school with him if he was hired.

UM officials went bananas over the idea. Here's med school dean Pascal Goldschmidt's emailed reply to that: "Superexciting the news about the donor! Thanks for getting us the info, I am, and I know you are, looking forward to getting beyond these issues..."

As rumors circulated that UM planned to hire the disgraced academic, other professors naturally began sending Shalala outraged emails about why she would OK such a hire -- particularly at the same time the school was touting new ethics rules.

One former faculty member wrote her a long note saying he was "dismayed" at the news. Shalala quickly and dismissively wrote back that no one else was complaining: "Actually yours is the only [note] I have received. Thanks for your views."

Nemeroff's scandals didn't end with his hiring. Last December, a new report accused him of putting his name on a textbook that was ghostwritten by a firm paid by GlaxoSmithKline, which then received a good writeup about its drugs.

Nemeroff denied the charge, calling it "blatantly false and inaccurate."

But Forbes now reports that Nemeroff is back on the payroll for big drug companies. Emory had demanded that he consult only for four companies at a time with a maximum payout of $10,000 each.

At UM, he's up to five, and several are paying big bucks: $50,000 from Novadel Pharma, $20,000 from Cenerex, and $50,000 from AstraZeneca.

Soon after getting hired at UM, Forbes reports, Nemeroff emailed another of his consulting firms and told them they could now pay up:

You will recall that thus far as chair of the SAB, I have received only $10,000 of the promised $40,000 due to the limitations I had during my affiliation with Emory University. You can, however, now go ahead and remunerate me for the remaining $30,000...

Forbes says UM officials didn't respond to "detailed questions" about the emails. Riptide has also asked Shalala's office for a response. If they get back to us, we'll update the post.

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