The University of Southern California, Los Angeles, has been ordered by auditors at the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General to repay the federal government more than $1 million for lapses in the university's management of an HIV peer treatment educator program, the Los Angeles Times reports. The university was ordered to return $1.08 million of a $1.27 million grant given for the now-defunct program.
The program was shut down in 2001 by federal regulators who cited concerns about conflicts of interest, improper research procedures, and misuse of funds. The HHS auditors found more evidence of such problems in its current evaluation and ordered the university to return most of the federal grant money. USC officials say the school followed federal recommendations to overhaul the program before it was shut down and plan to challenge the amount the auditors have ordered the university to return to the government.
The federal audit cited a conflict of interest involving Phill Wilson, the current director of the Los Angeles-based Black AIDS Institute, who managed USC's program at the same time he directed the African American AIDS Policy and Training Institute. AAAPTI was a subcontractor to the USC program. Wilson resigned as executive director of AAAPTI in response to conflict-of-interest concerns but reportedly continued to manage the agency. The auditors' report says that Wilson "opened the door for money to be diverted" to AAAPTI for uses not related to USC's program, and it cites $501,000 in AAAPTI expenses for soliciting sponsors for an AIDS march and conducting town hall meetings as possible misuse of the government funds. The audit also cites inadequately documented expense reports for wages, travel consulting services, public relations, and multimedia services for the USC peer training program. The program also violated federal funding guidelines because participants signed consent forms that were not approved by USC's institutional review board, which is required of all human research studies at the university.
Wilson did not return calls from Times reporters for comment.