Denmark scientist accused of stealing autism research money

ATLANTA Wed Apr 13, 2011 7:35pm EDT

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A scientist in Denmark has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Atlanta for allegedly stealing $1 million in grant money that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had earmarked for autism research.

U.S. prosecutors on Wednesday said they are seeking to extradite Poul Thorsen, 49, accused of wire fraud and money laundering.

He used the stolen money to buy a home in Atlanta, a Harley Davidson motorcycle and two cars, prosecutors said.

"Grant money for disease research is a precious commodity," said Sally Yates, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, in a news release.

"When grant funds are stolen, we lose not only the money, but also the opportunity to better understand and cure debilitating diseases."

Thorsen, a visiting scientist at the Atlanta-based CDC in the 1990s, helped two government agencies in Denmark obtain $11 million in research grants.

He moved back to Denmark in 2002 to be principal investigator for the program. Prosecutors said he was also in charge of administering the research dollars, earmarked in part to study the relationship between autism and exposure to vaccines.

Thorsen submitted false invoices for research expenses and had Aarhus University, where he held a faculty position, transfer the funds to his personal account at the CDC Federal Credit Union in Atlanta, prosecutors said.

They said the university thought it was transferring the funds to a CDC account, not Thorsen's personal account.

(Reporting by David Beasley; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)

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