Nearly two years ago, New York University’s medical school abruptly ended eight psychiatric studies spearheaded by one of its researchers after a Food and Drug Administration investigation concluded he had falsified records and compromised patient safety.
Now the researcher is working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — a distance that, nonetheless, has not insulated him from further controversy stateside.
In a complaint filed in federal court on Tuesday, prosecutors alleged that psychiatry researcher Alexander Neumeister used tens of thousands of dollars in research grants from the National Institutes of Health and NYU’s own research budget to repeatedly visit a professional ballet dancer in Salt Lake City — and to fly that “friend” to New York to visit him at least four times.
Neumeister used a payment card, according to the complaint, that drew either directly from NYU funds or from funding allocated by the National Institute on Mental Health.
The office of acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim alleged in the complaint that Neumeister “used his P-Card to pay for expenses that had nothing to do with his NIMH-funded research and instead were incurred for the benefit of himself, his family, or a personal friend.”
Neumeister is also said to have traveled to Chicago to see the ballet dancer perform there, and to fund the pair’s travel from New York to Miami in January 2014. According to the complaint, Neumeister had no research-related reasons to travel to Salt Lake City at any point.
“On the occasions when Neumeister traveled to Salt Lake City, he also used his P-Card to pay for the cost of his lodging, bar tabs, and other expenses, and he allocated many of those expenses to NIMH grants,” the complaint reads.
As a psychiatric researcher at NYU, Neumeister oversaw studies that the FDA found “jeopardize subject safety and welfare, and raise concerns about the validity and integrity of the data collected at your site,” according to the New York Times.
Neumeister was placed on leave after investigations found the studies had falsified records and failed to provide adequate oversight for research impacting participants with severe mental health issues.
“NYU School of Medicine is committed to conducting high quality research projects in compliance with regulatory requirements,” the university said in a statement. “As soon as the potential issues specific to this research were identified and reviewed, findings were shared with the appropriate oversight agencies. The researcher is no longer employed at the School of Medicine. As a victim of Dr. Neumeister’s actions, as to which NYU School of Medicine may be called to give testimony or further information, it would be inappropriate to provide additional comment while the federal investigation is ongoing.”
According to his Linkedin page, Neumeister took a job in 2015 at the Catholic University of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a role as a “program director … directing translational research and treatment development for post traumatic stress disorder supported by the World Health Organization.”
STAT’s attempts to contact Neumeister and the Catholic University of Bukavu were unsuccessful. In a statement, the NIMH said, “NIMH is a committed steward of taxpayer dollars and has procedures in place designed to safeguard against abuse in the grants awards process.”