Researcher Confesses: Implicates Dr. Mikovit in Theft of Materials from WPI

November 22, 2011

Posted by Cort Johnson

Dr. Judy Mikovits has had a difficult couple of months. First the BWG study indicated the tests she developed for XMRV were not valid, then evidence of contamination resulted in a partial retraction of the original Science paper, then she was accused of doctoring a photo at a conference and in the original Science paper prompting several investigation, then she was terminated from her job at the WPI, then she was served with a lawsuit claiming that she had stolen data from the WPI and since last week, she’s being in the Ventura County jail waiting arraignment as a fugitive from justice. She must be wondering if it could get any worse. It has -but first some background.

The latest episode began with a lawsuit filed by the WPI a month after Dr. Mikovits termination claiming that Dr. Mikovits had taken critical notebooks and flash drives from the WPI after she was fired. According to ScienceInsider Dr Mikovits had the only key to the desk the notebooks were kept in. After Dr. Mikovits termination the WPI had the desk manufacturer open the desk for them and found it empty of her and other researchers notebooks. A source at the WPI said that it was her understanding that Dr. Mikovits desk had been ‘emptied out’ and up to five years research data was gone. They then served notice of the theft to the police and a police investigation began.

Why are these laboratory notebooks so important? Because they serve as the document of record in scientific research and are specially manufactured and used in specific ways…..

WIKIPEDIA – A lab notebook is a primary record of research…..To ensure that the data cannot be easily altered, notebooks with permanently bound and numbered pages are often recommended. Researchers are often encouraged to write only with unerasable pen, to sign and date each page, and to have their notebooks inspected periodically by another scientist who can read and understand it. All of these guidelines can be useful in proving exactly when a discovery was made, in the case of a patent dispute.

After several failed attempts to get the materials back the WPI filed a lawsuit a month later to compel Dr. Mikovits to return notebooks, flash drives, information on her laptop computer and information in her email account. In a blog titled “Wings of Hope: Our Responsibility” the WPI stated that the failed efforts to get the materials back forced had forced them to engage in ‘costly litigation”. The data loss included 12-20 notebooks dating back five years. The WPI stated that” the costs of legal action pale in comparison to the years of expenses incurred for researcher salaries, equipment, and supplies to generate this valuable work”

(Dr. Mikovits contract stipulated that all intellectual property she produced while under the employ of the WPI was the property of the WPI.) The WPI also won a temporary restraining order stopping Dr. Mikovits from “destroying, deleting or altering’ any of the materials that may be in her position.

For her part, through her attorney Dr. Mikovits stated that she received notice of her firing on her cell phone and then immediately left for her home in Southern California without visiting the Institute again. She stated she had placed her keys in unlocked drawers in her lab as was her custom so that other lab personnel would have access to the notebooks. Her attorney stated that

Dr. Mikovits was not and is not in possession of the lab notebooks or any WPI intellectual property. A number of individuals have keys to the office and lab, including the administrative staff, lab staff and custodial.

Instead of Dr. Mikovits returning the materials her attorney requested that her notebooks be returned to her so she can continue to work on the grants she won while employed at the WPI. Her attorney stated that

Dr. Mikovits’ notebooks, as well as those of the employees whom she supervised, should be returned to Dr. Mikovits so she can fulfill her responsibilities as PI on these government grants and corporate contacts.

The WPI lawsuit does not request just the return of the materials; if found guilty it also requests that Dr. Mikovits be liable for attorneys fees, punitive damages and other damages to be proven at trial – potentially leaving Dr. Mikovits with a substantial financial burden if the WPI prevails.

Research Assistant Confesses Theft - in a legal filing pertaining to a preliminary injunction against Dr. Judy Mikovits the Whittemore Peterson Institute provided evidence late last night that Dr. Mikovits engineered the theft of the research materials from the WPI lab after her termination.

In an affidavit Max Pfost, a researcher working at the Max Pfost, admitted that he removed the documents/flash drives at Dr. Mikovits behest the morning after her termination. According to Pfost’s affidavit, upon hearing of her termination Dr. Mikovits called him and told him that the WPI would ‘go down’. She then met him in a bar and provided him with the keys he needed to take ‘patient samples’, lab notebooks and other information.

Pfost attempted to gain entry to the WPI that night but was unable to and entered the building the next morning when it was unlocked. Pfost then removed between 12-20 heavy notebooks containing approximately five years of research work from Dr. Mikovits, Pfost and two other researchers. Unable to fit all the notebooks into his backpack Pfost carried others out in his arms to his car and then to his apartment where he hid them in a “Happy Birthday” bag. Realizing that the WPI was searching for them he then moved them to his mothers house.

Dr. Mikovits requested that he mail them to her at her house but Pfost protested that the size and the weight of the notebooks made them too expensive to mail. After confessing to his mother that he had stolen the notebooks Pfost removed them from her house and returned them to his condominium.

Mikovits In Hiding – Shortly after meeting Dr. Mikovits early in the morning at the Reno airport Pfost handed over the notebooks and other materials to her. Dr. Mikovits informed Pfost that she was hiding out on a boat to avoid being served papers by the WPI and requested that he inform her of the whereabouts of WPI employees to avoid detection.

Attempted Removal of Biological Materials as Well – According to the affadavit Dr. Mikovits also attempted to have biological materials including cell lines and blood samples removed from the labs as well. At Dr. Mikovits behest Pfost attempted to recruit other WPI employees to remove these materials from the lab and send them to Dr. Ruscetti. According to the affidavit research assistant Amanda McKenzie, declined to do so.

The Stolen Materials – A WPI filing asserts that the WPI uses the stolen materials on a ‘daily basis’ and cannot proceed on critical areas of research without it.

WPI needs the Misappropriated Property to research effectively, continue ongoing experiments and studies, communicate with research subjects effectively, apply for patents, recruit researchers, and obtain grants to help find a cure for those patients suffering with NID.

Law Enforcement in Charge – A misunderstanding has arisen about the WPI’s role in Dr. Mikovits arrest. When the WPI realized important documents were missing they reported the theft of the materials to the police. At that point a police investigation was launched; based on the facts of that investigation and the lawsuit filed by the WPI, the Judge overseeing the case produced the initial restraining order stopping Dr. Mikovits from altering or destroying the documents. On Nov 17th a warrant was issued for her arrest and she was arrested last Friday. Dr. Mikovits fate is now in the hands of the legal system. The police will determine whether or not to bring charges.

Felony Theft - If Dr. Mikovits has the documents she certainly has good reason to return them. The WPI’s lawsuit, which was filed over a month ago, asked for legal fees, punitive damages and other damages.

Furthermore Dr. Mikovits has been charged with two felonies; avoiding justice and stealing property from the WPI. In the state of Nevada the market value of the product stolen determines how a theft is classified. Thefts above $250 are considered felonies; thefts above $2,500 are considered ‘grand theft’ and are punishable by 1-5 years in jail and up to $10,000 in fines. According to the affadivit the documents in question represent 5 years of work.

A hearing is scheduled today in Nevada at 1pm PST regarding the preliminary injunction which will expire after today.

20 comments

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicklas Börjesson November 22, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Holy sh*t.

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Adrienne November 22, 2011 at 11:34 pm

This person, Pfost, what proof can he offer that he is telling the truth? Or is it just his word against hers? Could the Whittemores have bribed him? Has he a gripe against her? It will be very interesting to see what his legal fate turns out to be, since he is confessing to a crime.
Just sayin’

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Cort November 27, 2011 at 6:55 am

RIght – We don’t know about other evidence that is present…We’ll see how it all turns out…Time will tell.

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Jill Adelheid November 23, 2011 at 2:46 am

this is much more entangled than I think many of us knew. I guess I’ll stay tuned. Although this event and following it has pretty much completely zapped me out.

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jane clout November 23, 2011 at 3:26 am

I find this paragraph particularly problematic:
Researcher Confesses Theft- in a legal filing pertaining to a preliminary injunction against Dr. Judy Mikovits the Whittemore Peterson Institute provided evidence that Dr. Mikovits engineered the theft of the research materials from the WPI lab after her termination.

If you are scanning the article – and a lot of people do just scan – it looks like Judy has confessed to theft. This is not the case. Max Pfost (who is he? KFG’s deleted post) has signed an affidavit saying he took the notebooks on Judy’s request. How much pressure he has been under to do this is not known. It is an affidavit as part of the prosecution case. We have yet to hear from the defence.

Trial by internet, anyone?

The affidavit was signed on Monday 21st, after Judy was arrested.

just saying…

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cort November 23, 2011 at 6:05 am

Well, it says the WPI provided evidence that Dr. Mikovits had engineered the theft of the materials – if she had confessed the sentence would have read “Dr. Mikovits confessed”.

Dr. Mikovits was reportedly under an order not to talk about the case. Her attorney, however, had laid it out in full stating that she never took the document or had anything to do with taking them. Pfosts version does not support that but if she stays with that statement she will have, as they say, her day in court, and will hear more from her side.

Pfost is a researcher at the WPI and a co-author of the original Science paper.

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Liisa Priyanka Lugus November 23, 2011 at 5:50 pm

seriously, jill. if i was interested in soap operas, i’d watch them on TV.

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Kathy D. November 23, 2011 at 9:35 pm

All I have to say is this: Does any of this help those of us with CFS? Or is it all an internal struggle of an institution and a former researcher?

I feel badly for any scientist separated from the product of their own creativity, thoughts, and work. This is Dr. Mikovits’ life work, her production. So I understand her feelings.

But I think mistakes were made by WPI, and that nothing so vindictive as a lawsuit should have been carried out. I don’t know who spurred on the search, arrest and jailing.

I wouldn’t want to do that to another human being in this type of a situation.

I really worry that much of this is about money — grants, fundraising, etc. But I don’t know and frankly, at this point, I think it’s been proven that one can’t put all of one’s eggs in one’s basket, so to speak figuratively.

And, so, I’m now looking at the ME/CFS research and treatment center being set up at Mount Sinai by Dr. Enlander, the research by Drs. Malle, Fluge, Lipkin, Komaroff, the Lights, Klimas, etc.

I have hopes that the mystery of this disease will be unraveled, and treatments found. I hope that I’m still around to benefit, but with health care and medication costs going up, and federal funding for health care programs going down, many of us may not be able to afford it anyway.

But for others so afflicted, I hope something breaks soon.

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Nelly Pointis November 24, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Ugly

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Stone November 25, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Watch the story closely concerning Pfost. I bet there is much more to her actions and/or motives as they relate to Dr. Mikovits’ discredited research (and ‘persona non gratus’ status) than currently meets the eye. One has to seriously ask themselves why on earth these highly educated individuals in the top of their field (in which professional ethics and conduct could arguably define career success as much as scientific discoveries), would risk everything they have worked for their entire lives by committing a crime in which they are all but guaranteed to be found out and prosecuted? And why would anyone poke their finger in the proverbial eye of the Whittemores, a well thought of and prominent family with enough power, influence and resources to really ruin your day should you mess with them? Assuming that Pfost and Mikovits (and any others who may be involved) are not completely insane, these actions suggest (to me anyway) a much more powerful motive what is immediately apparent.
Concealment alone doesn’t seem a likely motive because if the theft is an attempt to cover-up either deliberate falsification or just honest human error, it’s still not as if Dr. M is solely to blame or as if she were working in a vacuum; the responsibility for that seems sufficient to share with more than one person, so having sole possession of the materials wouldn’t go very far to that end.
Then there’s the possibility of just plain meanness being at play here. It’s hard to fathom the depth of evil that would have to exist when you consider our plight as sufferers of a life-shattering, miserable disease and the utter dearth of truly useful current information available relative to other illnesses of this magnitude, as well as the already criminal neglect in funding for research which characterizes the history of our illness. I don’t know, I just can’t imagine someone so quickly becoming that despicable after having just spent years working so hard at helping us. Besides, I’m just not personally comfortable knowing that this possibility exists as a motive, so I just choose to live in conscious denial of it, preferring to think that this is so unlikely that it doesn’t warrant any real consideration.
Along these same lines, I shudder to think that the theft of these materials could be entirely motivated by resentment at being let go from the WPI. If this were the case, it seems that enlisting the help of other WPI scientists (presumably) in good standing at the WPI would be almost impossible, unless the person(s) you get to help you has their own axe to grind and already has plans to leave WPI themselves.
So if I set aside insanity (which would have to be affecting two individuals simultaneously), cover-up, evil and resentment as sole motivational factors, what I’m left with is a picture of at least two scientists (possibly more) who seem steadfastly, desperately and deeply committed to the integrity of their findings. Why else might Mikovits et.al., risk everything, and I mean everything, for these notebooks, drives and even patient samples unless she is still, after ALL the evidence to the contrary, after all this time, convinced she is right and she can prove it beyond all doubt? Why else might she be able to successfully convince another scientist to steal this stuff for her unless Pfost is on some level in agreement with her?
It is my understanding that XMRV (or insert your favorite pet name for the thing here) has been irrefutably refuted as the cause of ME/CFS (or insert your favorite pet name for that thing here), hasn’t it? So then, I’m still asking myself why all that was risked was indeed risked in the face of all that? Is the scientist’s ego just that big? Or could it be that there’s something more here than meets the eye? Time will tell…or will it?

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Kathy D. November 27, 2011 at 9:05 pm

It’s the scientist’s life work, commitment, around which she revolved her life for the last however many years, her thoughts, her goals. It’s understandable to me, as it would be if a musician wrote a symphony and wanted the scores and all of those who came before while he/she was developing and changing it.

Mistakes were made all around here. Who knows the real story anyway? We don’t know motives.
We don’t know people’s thoughts. We don’t even know the interactions among the various players.

What I want to know is why, given that XMRV (only) seems to have been discredited as a cause of CFS, does WPI want the research notes? What do they think they can get out of them? Isn’t funding a big motivation here? But for what if this virus was found not to cause the disease.

Something doesn’t sit right here.

And it should be looked at objectively without the elevated reactions. What is the reason for wanting the notebooks if this virus was not found to be the cause of CFS? Why did WPI go on a crusade against Mikovits and to get the notebooks, even calling the police? What is the essence of this?

I ask as a long-time CFS sufferer whose symptoms have been exacerbated by the vitriol in this, and I ask in an objective manner about this?

Kathy D.

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Pamela Black November 28, 2011 at 4:56 am

I feel Raped once again by so called people who were suppose to be on our side in this nightmare.I will start listening to my gut again.We are doomed.Only the rich will get treatments.Are there anymore honest people left in this World?

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Cort November 28, 2011 at 11:16 am

Pamela I understand your disappointment. XMRV has been a really difficult for issue for everybody – Dr. Alter called it the most complex thing he had ever studied. Mistakes were surely made but I still believe, whatever they were, that the people who made them are still on ‘our side’. Dr. Mikovits believes she’s right and the Whittemores ill daughter spurred them to spend alot of time, effort and money on the WPI.

On the other hand there’s other good news – the CFI initiative is very promising as is the work at Bond University, Dr. Enlander’
s work at Ithaca, Dr. Montoya’s at Stanford and I’ve heard that a new initiative will shortly be announced that I know will hearten you and others. XMRV hasn’t worked but a number of new things have sprung up in the meantime. :)

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Pamela Black November 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Thanks for you kind words Cort.But are the poor going to get help? I am once again losing my home.II am at the end of my rope here.Bout to give up!

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Pamela Black November 28, 2011 at 1:32 pm

And we need an attorney to help us get the money for testing at VIPdx.I want a full refund.

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MishMash November 29, 2011 at 6:52 am

The whole thing seems entirely human and predictable. The thing most sought after, and most frequent not given, in the scientific community is peer admiration and respect. I’m just a humble CFS patient, but I have beenin doctor’s offices where the physician will ask a question or two about the academic/scientific qualifications of the previous doc (ie”they say he’s pretty smart; and he has a PHd in Physics besides his MD. Is that true…”). Many (not all) are like a bunch of jealous little adolescent kids, who long to be the most popular kid in the school.

So along comes the WPI, with their single mission statement: find the etiology of CFS. Mikovits comes along with her theory; at least partly based on “proven science” of America’s finest research institution (the Cleveland Clinic “proved” XMRV caused prostate cancer, right?). Entirely human errors unfolded as Mikovits was well-intentionedly eager to please. I personally have some sympathy for Judy; to soar from rags to riches, to be the savior of thousands of stricken CFS patients like me. Then to find out later you made a simple but critical error in your work. To be scoffed out, laughed at, abused all over the internet. So I can undertand why Judy purloined the lab materials (although, she can’t be forgiven in the eyes of the law).

CFS has rendered me non-compus-mentis. I have trouble remembering small things. My brain is slowly collapsing because of this illness. I make stupid, small mistakes every day. On bad days, you wish you could just shrink down through the floor. The frustration can be overwhelming. Judy is not a patient; but she is a human being.

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Kathy D. December 2, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Mish Mash,
What a good post. I get it. I agree with most of it. Judy Mikovits is a human being. She was attached and dedicated to her work.

I hope she is cleared of charges and allowed to pursue research on CFIDS. I don’t know the vindictiveness in this situation. People can meditate, arbitrate and negotiate. Far better than going to war wherever the situation may arise.

I am hopeful because of the CFI studies, Komaroff, Klimas, the Lights, Drs. Fluge and Malle and others. Research is really taking off. I do think Judy Mikovits’ studies and the resultant press hoopla about all of it brought CFS out of the closet, so to speak and into the public arena. The genie can’t be pushed back into the bottle.

A lot more researchers, doctors, journalists — and friends and families of CFS sufferers now know the extent of the suffering this illness causes.

I am glad to see, Mish Mash that I’m no the only one making mistakes and forgetting things, like friends’ emails which I’ve known for years. All of a sudden I can’t remember them. But there are so many of these slip ups. It gets bizarre.

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Kathy D. March 12, 2012 at 2:49 am

I can’t now use a cordless phone given to me. I can’t given out the Menu, turned off the ringer as I sleep very late, and can’t turn it back on. Not only that, I can’t find the section allowing me to turn it back on, and I’m now getting directions in French! Do any manufacturers really want technology in the hands of CFS-sufferers? I need live-in technical assistance for everything.
I had to drag out my old phone, whose cords I trip over daily, just to turn the phone back on to hear callbacks. There is a set of instructions but it’s Greek to me. It might as well be calculus.
So, no one with CFDS should get any high-tech gadgets unless 24-7 tech help is on-scene.

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