A Danish man was indicted Wednesday on charges of wire fraud and money laundering for allegedly concocting a scheme to steal more than $1 million in autism research money from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The indictment charges Poul Thorsen, 49, with 13 counts of wire fraud and nine counts of money laundering. The wire fraud counts each carry a maximum of 20 years in prison and the money laundering counts each carry a maximum of 10 years in prison, with a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.
The federal government also seeks forfeiture of all property derived from the alleged offenses, including an Atlanta residence, two cars and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
According to U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates, the charges and other information presented in court, Thorsen worked in the 1990s as a visiting scientist at the CDC Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, when the CDC was soliciting grant applications for research related to infant disabilities.
Thorsen promoted the idea of awarding the grant to Denmark and provided input and guidance for the research. From 2000 to 2009, the CDC awarded more than $11 million to two governmental agencies in Denmark to study the relationship between autism and exposure to vaccines, between cerebral palsy and infection during pregnancy and between childhood development and fetal alcohol exposure.
In 2002, Thorsen moved to Denmark and became the principal investigator for the grant, responsible for administering the research money awarded by the CDC.
Once in Denmark, Thorsen allegedly began stealing the grant money by submitting fraudulent documents to have expenses supposedly related to the Danish studies be paid with the grant money. He provided the documents to the Danish government, Aarhus University and Odense University Hospital, where scientists performed research under the grant.
From February 2004 through June 2008, Thorsen allegedly submitted more than a dozen fraudulent invoices, purportedly signed by a laboratory section chief at the CDC, for reimbursement of expenses that Thorsen claimed were incurred in connection with the CDC grant. The invoices falsely claimed that a CDC laboratory had performed work and was owed grant money.
Based on these invoices, Aarhus University, where Thorsen also held a faculty position, transferred hundreds of thousands of dollars to bank accounts held at the CDC Federal Credit Union in Atlanta -- accounts that Aarhus University believed belonged to the CDC. The CDC Federal Credit Union accounts were instead personal accounts held by Thorsen, the federal government said.
After the money was transferred, Thorsen allegedly withdrew the fraud proceeds for his own personal use to buy a home in Atlanta, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and Audi and Honda vehicles, and to get numerous cashier’s checks.
Thorsen allegedly pocketed more than $1 million from the scheme. My prediction? Another attack will be launched on Wakefield. ;)