ALBANY, NEW YORK – Gerwin Schalk, age 48, of Albany, pled guilty today to making false statements on conflict of interest certifications he submitted in connection with National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants.
The announcement was made by United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith; New York State Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro; and Scott J. Lampert, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General’s New York Region (DHHS-OIG).
Schalk is a research scientist employed by the New York State Department of Health (DOH) in Albany, and serves as deputy director of the National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies.
In connection with applying for and receiving federal research grants, Schalk was required to disclose any financial conflicts of interests to DOH and its affiliate, Health Research, Inc. (“HRI”), or certify that no conflicts existed.
In pleading guilty, Schalk admitted that he knowingly and repeatedly lied about, and failed to disclose, payments he was receiving from a company whose products Schalk regularly purchased and used in connection with his research. Schalk admitted that the company paid him at least $70,000, from July 2013 to April 10, 2019, and that he signed at least 15 conflict of interest forms during that time, never once disclosing a payment from the company as he was required to do.
The company paying Schalk also billed HRI approximately $260,000 for sales of neurotechnology equipment to HRI, from 2012 through January 23, 2018, and was principally paid from federal grant money.
United States Attorney Grant C. Jaquith stated: “Gerwin Schalk specializes in cutting-edge neurology research, but he failed to honor some of his most basic obligations as a state employee and federal grant recipient. He lined his pockets with at least $70,000 in payments from a company whose products he used in his research, and then repeatedly lied about this brazen conflict of interest. His guilty plea demonstrates that even acclaimed researchers must follow the rules, and that we and our law enforcement partners are committed to safeguarding the integrity of federally funded research.”
“Dr. Schalk abused his high-profile state position by using public funds to purchase neurotechnololgy products from a company that was paying him a handsome sum on the side,” said New York State Inspector General Letizia Tagliafierro. “Through his elaborate scheme, he lied, failed to disclose conflicts of interest and ultimately broke the public’s trust. I applaud the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District for working to ensure he will no longer be able to unscrupulously enrich himself.”
“By not disclosing payments totaling $70,000, Schalk failed to uphold the integrity of taxpayer-funded government research,” said Scott J. Lampert, Special Agent in Charge for DHHS-OIG’s New York Region. “We will continue working with our federal and state law enforcement partners to protect research supported by these critically needed funds.”’
Schalk faces up to 5 years in prison, up to 3 years of post-imprisonment supervised release, and a maximum $250,000 fine, when he is sentenced by Senior United States District Judge Lawrence E. Kahn. A defendant’s sentence is imposed by a judge based on the particular statute the defendant is charged with violating, the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other factors.
Schalk has agreed to pay $70,000 in restitution: $49,000 payable to the State of New York and $21,000 payable to NIH. He has also agreed that within 60 days he will terminate his employment with the State of New York.
This case was investigated by the New York State Inspector General’s Office and the DHHS Office of Inspector General, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Barnett.