AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A fledgling Texas cancer trials network announced Tuesday that it had shut down after auditors found more than $300,000 in expenses deemed inappropriate in the latest blow to the state's troubled $3 billion cancer-fighting agency.
The Clinical Trials Network of Texas received a $25 million grant from the state in 2010, though it had only received about $7 million in taxpayer dollars before running out of money last month. State officials began halting payments after auditors raised questions that included how the network even won funding in the first place.
The clinical trial network, or CTNeT, obtained the largest grant ever awarded by the embattled Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which now adds this failure to a litany of woes. Those include an ongoing criminal investigation, mass resignations and rebuke from lawmakers and scientists over controversial awards and accusations of political meddling.
A scathing report of the institute released by state auditors this week revealed that Patricia Winger, the chief operations officer of CTNeT, was paid $160,000 in bonuses on top of her base salary. CTNeT also spent more than $116,000 for interior decorations and furniture, which auditors said are expenses "unallowable or questionable" for a research grant under state agency rules.
Dr. Charles Geyer, chief medical officer of CTNetT, told The Associated Press the nonprofit needed to set up offices for its 36 employees. He said he wasn't involved in the decisions surrounding Winger's bonuses but defended her role, saying she used her own money to help get the effort off the ground.
Attempts to reach Winger through CTNeT and others affiliated with the network were not immediately successful Tuesday.
"I understand the appearance. But I know Ms. Winger, and she did a lot," Geyer said. "She worked basically for three months before she got her first paycheck. ...She made a lot of sacrifices because she was committed to this."
Geyer said he did not know Winger's salary. Thirty employees with CTNet have been laid off, and Geyer said the remaining six are working at minimum wage to finish winding down the initiative.