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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Indictment issued in Texas cancer agency scandal

 

PAUL J. WEBER, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A former top executive of Texas’ $3 billion cancer-fighting effort has been indicted over an improperly awarded $11 million taxpayer-funded grant that plunged the state agency into turmoil, prosecutors said Friday.

The criminal charge is the first following a yearlong criminal investigation into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The indictment announced by the Travis County district attorney alleges that Jerald “Jerry” Cobbs secured the execution of a document by deception.

A grand jury in Austin found that Cobbs, 62, committed a first-degree felony when he submitted a funding proposal from Dallas-based Peloton Therapeutics for approval before the company’s application underwent required scrutiny, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors said no charges were considered against Peloton.

“The evidence indicated that they were unaware their grant had bypassed the required review committees,” Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmnberg said.

Gregg Cox, who led the investigation and handles public corruption cases involving state officials, said he could not comment on a possible motive.

Prosecutors said their investigation into the once-celebrated state agency, known as CPRIT, is now finished and that no one else would face charges.

Cobbs faces five to 99 years in prison if convicted. Cox said Cobbs turned himself in Friday morning and was released on an $85,000 bond.

Attempts to reach Cobbs or an attorney were not immediately successful Friday.

Launched with national acclaim in 2009, CPRIT became an embarrassment following the revelation of the Peloton grant and the resignation of top scientists around the country, some of whom accused the agency of “hucksterism” and putting business ahead of science.

Two former Nobel laureates were among those who stepped down from the agency. CPRIT controls the nation’s second-largest pot of cancer funding behind only the federal National Institutes of Health, but that funding was frozen for nearly a year while prosecutors and dug into the agency’s widespread missteps.

The Texas Legislature revamped the agency this summer and installed an entirely new governing board.

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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