In e-mail to colleagues, Polla denies claims of grant mismanagement

V. Paul

The head of the biomedical institute denied allegations that he took advantage of University funds, facility and personnel for his own gain in an e-mail message he sent to colleagues on Wednesday.
Dennis L. Polla’s message, obtained by the Daily on Thursday, was sent one day after University officials announced an ongoing investigation into financial irregularities in his department. The internal audit is expected to be completed in 90 days.
Polla could not be reached for comment Thursday.
His financial management and research consulting activities have been under University scrutiny since March. Employees first reported suspicious activity to the Department of Audits in February.
The Minnesota Daily reported Monday that auditors found evidence that Polla has mismanaged departmental funds almost from the start of his appointment in January 1998. In the e-mail message, Polla called the article “one-sided.”
In the message, Polla defended his practice of cross-transferring and overspending research funds.
“These are true statements, and I am sure you can understand these issues,” he wrote to Institute of Technology and Biomedical Engineering Institute faculty and students.
Polla also addressed his role in projects involving the Office of Naval Research and St. Croix Medical Inc. He said he declined a $25,000 consultation with St. Croix Medical in favor of turning it into a graduate-student project.
Edward Wink, a director of the University’s Sponsored Projects Administration, said that the decision would not have violated University conflict of interest policies.
Wink said that University policy makes it clear that students’ needs take priority over any financial interests in the projects. Typically, a professor would either step down as the student’s adviser in the project or terminate their consultative relationship with the sponsor, Wink said.
However, another University official told The Minnesota Daily last week that internal databases failed to show that St. Croix Medical granted the biomedical institute any money through the University. Furthermore, other documents reveal that Polla was working on the project with a graduate student in violation of University policy.
“If you’re consulting to a company that’s also sponsoring research that you’re doing, that’s a conflict of interest,” said Frank Cerra, senior vice president of the Academic Health Center. Cerra was one of the recipients of Polla’s e-mail message.
In the e-mail, Polla said he was removed as a central researcher from another project due to the University’s ongoing audit of his activities.
He also said that inaccurate billing statements to federal agencies are a result of the University’s weekly billing cycle. Researchers review the accounting on a quarterly basis, which accounts for the discrepancy, Polla wrote.

V. Paul Virtucio covers courts and welcomes comments at [email protected]