Woodmere resident and Stony Brook University associate professor Geoffrey Girnun allegedly stole more than $200,000 in federal and state money, according to a seven-count indictment that was unsealed on Sept. 12. Girnun, 48, was arrested on that Thursday.
The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard Donoghue, along with officials from the FBI, and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General, announced the charges that include money laundering and wire fraud.
“Professor Girnun’s alleged theft of federal and state grant funds earmarked for cancer research can be explained in two words: pure greed,” Donoghue said in a news release. “He will now be held to account in a federal courtroom.”
Girnun formed shell companies Atlas Metabolomics and Empyrean Biosciences in or about 2013 and 2017, according to the indictment. The companies reportedly supplied research items and equipment for the defendant’s cancer-related research projects. He then allegedly submitted fraudulent electronic invoices to Stony Brook for payment to the companies for equipment, goods and services that were never received or provided.
“As millions of Americans place their faith in programs established to fund cancer-related research, Geoffrey Girnun, a professor, allegedly siphoned money from grant funds established for this very purpose,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said in the release. “While people continued to suffer from their illnesses, Girnun made payments toward his personal mortgage with the money he stole. His conduct is despicable, and it won’t be tolerated.”
The university used National Institutes of Health and school grant money to pay the shell companies more than $200,000. Girnun then allegedly transferred that money into personal bank accounts and used the money to pay personal expenses, including mortgage payments on his house.
“Taxpayers fund medical research with the hope that promising scientific breakthroughs will result in much-needed treatments and cures for patients. Because the money for medical research is limited and the need for scientific advances is great, it’s incredibly important to clamp down on those who would steal such grant money for personal gain,” HHS-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Scott Lampert stated in the release.
Girnun joined Stony Brook’s research faculty in 2003. He completed his doctoral degree in 2000 in free radical and cancer biology at the University of Iowa and his postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Bruce Spiegelman at Harvard Medical School and the Dana Farber Institute in 2003. Girnun held faculty appointments at the Dana Farber and in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at the University of Maryland.
He was arraigned in federal court in Central Islip on Sept. 12. Bond was set at $250,000, Girnun was released with the stipulation he will come up with the money by 5 p.m. on Sept. 13. His next court date is Oct. 4.
If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison. Girnun’s attorney, Steven Siegel of Garden City, did not return a call for comment.