Ex-ISU scientist to plead guilty in AIDS-vaccine fraud
by Tony Leys
A disgraced former Iowa State University researcher has agreed to plead guilty in a nationally prominent prosecution of scientific fraud, new court documents show.
Dong-Pyou Han has signed a plea agreement with prosecutors, according to a document his lawyer filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Des Moines. The document doesn't specify terms of the deal.
Han was forced to resign from ISU in 2013, after admitting he'd faked results of experiments with an AIDS vaccine. Among other things, he admitted to spiking the blood of rabbits with human antibodies to make it look like the vaccine was protecting the rabbits against the virus that causes AIDS. The phony results helped his team land millions of dollars in federal grants to continue research into the vaccine.
Such scientific fraud rarely leads to criminal charges, but a federal grand jury indicted Han in June on four felony counts of making false statements. A conviction could lead to prison time.
His trial was set to start Feb. 2, but defense lawyer Joseph Herrold is seeking an extension. In the document the public defender filed Friday, he said Han, 57, is living in Indiana and has a health problem that is making it hard for him to travel. Herrold also said he has had trouble finding a qualified Korean interpreter to help Han understand the proceedings. Herrold asks that a judge set a hearing for the end of February, at which Han would change his plea. A short delay also could let Han obtain a reasonably priced flight to Iowa, which he intends to pay for himself instead of imposing the cost on the public, the document says.
Herrold has declined comment about the case. Kevin Vander Schel, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said Friday that prosecutors don't release details of a plea agreement until it is formally filed in court.
Iowa State officials have said Han alone was responsible for the brazen fraud. They have said the team, led by Professor Michael Cho, will continue research into a possible AIDS vaccine. After the fraud was discovered, ISU had to repay $496,000 to the federal government. Federal officials also canceled $1.4 million in grants that had not yet been paid.
[Note: About time that scientific fraud is given at least an equivalent of what bank fraud, or other types of fraud, result in legally. No more slaps on the wrists, as the consequences of scientific fraud include not only the deconstruction of a scientific field per se and cause good scientific researchers to unwittingly use data for years that is fraudulent in their own studies, but also amounts to real and present dangers to the health and well being of the public at large when translated into fraudulent clinical trials, fraudulent drug and vaccine models, etc. The article first appeared h ere.-- DNI]