News and Press Releases

Defendant Falsified Audit Submitted to National Institute of Health

May 8, 2009

CHRISTOPHER K. MA, 35 of Seattle, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to the five days he already served in prison, three years of supervised release, 240 hours of community service and a $5,000 fine for Making False Statements. MA was employed by a local biotech company, when he knowingly submitted false audits to the National Institute of Health, which had provided substantial grant money to the firm. At sentencing Chief U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik said, “...instead of working it through with the agency, he (MA) took the quick and fraudulent way out.”

According to the plea agreement signed December 1, 2008, MA served as the director of business affairs for Syntrix Biochip, Inc., DBA Syntrix Biosystems, Inc. an Auburn, Washington, biotech firm. Over the last seven years, the National Institute of Health (NIH) awarded the company $7.5 million in grants for cancer research. In July 2006, an NIH grants manager requested a copy of Syntrix’s audited financial statement. The audit was required by NIH policy. After two weeks with no reply, the grants manager asked for the name of the audit firm in order to obtain the audit directly from the firm. The grants manager then received a seven page report purporting to be an audit for 2005. The subsequent investigation revealed that MA had fabricated not only the audit, but the audit firm as well. MA had used a pre-paid cell phone for the fake audit firm’s phone number, and he created false photocopies of checks to make it appear that the firm had been paid for the audit. MA also created fake e-mails to make it appear that he was corresponding with the firm about the audit. Additionally, MA submitted to the NIH project ledgers that contained false entries, including entries pertaining to fictitious companies. The ledgers indicated various companies had been paid out of Syntrix funds, when if fact the money had gone to MA for his personal use.

In requesting a prison term and fine, prosecutors wrote to the court noting, “the Court should account for the brazen nature of Mr. Ma’s conduct, and the extraordinary lengths that Mr. Ma undertook to attempt to deceive the NIH. Mr. Ma created a false audit report from whole cloth under the letterhead of a fictitious accounting firm. He composed fake e-mails and an invoice, and obtained a cell phone number for the purpose of making the fictitious accounting firm appear legitimate.” Prosecutors added that MA’s actions had created problems for Syntrix and one of MA’s previous employers who had to demonstrate to the NIH that other funds had not been misused.

The case was investigated by Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) and the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG).

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Susan Loitz and Thomas Woods.

For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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