Doc at VT vet hospital on trial over contracts

By John Curran
Associated Press Writer / April 12, 2010

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BRATTLEBORO, Vt.—A Veterans Affairs administrator who also worked at Dartmouth College went on trial Monday for allegedly using his dual roles to steer federal research money into a faculty account that he controlled, in violation of federal conflict-of-interest laws.

Dr. William B. Weeks, 47, of Lyme, N.H., is accused of using his position as a psychiatrist and administrator at the VA hospital in White River Junction to design five contracts worth $1.5 million that he then -- unbeknownst to the VA -- executed at Dartmouth's medical school.

Taking advantage of a policy that lets Dartmouth researchers keep surplus contract funds in personal faculty accounts, Weeks allegedly kept secret from his VA bosses the deal he had struck with Dartmouth to get the leftover funds. He hired fewer people than originally planned to do the work and at lower rates, and more than $567,000 was deposited into an account in his name at Dartmouth, prosecutors said.

"This case is pretty straightforward. It's about self-dealing in government contracts," said prosecutor Heather Ross. "It's about a man who is supposed to be acting for the government but instead makes decisions that were in his interests."

Weeks, who has pleaded not guilty, could get a year in prison and assessed a $100,000 fine on each of the five charges.

His attorney, Robert O'Neill, told jurors in U.S. District Court that the evidence won't support the government's allegation that he was out to feather his own nest. O'Neill said it's not a crime that Weeks was doing work on both ends of the contracts, calling him an honest man who operated within Dartmouth's rules.

"It is obvious that (the) two different sides here have dramatically different ideas about what happened," O'Neill said.

Like most doctors at the hospital, Weeks had a faculty appointment as an assistant professor at Dartmouth Medical School, where he specialized in psychiatry. The VA hospital is one of two teaching hospitals for Dartmouth.

Weeks is suing the government separately for what he says was a warrantless search of his office and seizure of his computer hard drive. He also is claiming emotional distress.

The contracts at issue were awarded beginning in 2003. But Weeks didn't disclose to the VA that he was being paid by Dartmouth to oversee implementation of the contracts, Ross told the jury.

Federal law prohibits federal employees from participating in contracts in which they have a financial interest, she said.

Testifying Monday, a lawyer at the VA hospital, Neil Nulty, said VA employees aren't allowed to be paid by anyone other than the government for work done in their capacity as Veterans Affairs employees. He said he discussed some of the contracts at issue with Weeks, and that Weeks never told him of his role on the Dartmouth end.

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