Updated 01/14/2020, 5:00 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Stony Brook University.
By Brianne Ledda and Melissa Azofeifa
Former Stony Brook University Professor Geoffrey Girnun pleaded guilty to stealing government funds on Tuesday, Jan. 14.
Girnun, a former associate professor in the department of pathology and director of cancer metabolomics at the Renaissance School of Medicine, was arrested on Sept. 12 after stealing $78,000 from National Institutes of Health (NIH) between December 2013 and December 2017. According to an initial indictment, he allegedly used the money to cover personal expenses, including mortgage payments.
“He regrets his conduct and is taking responsibility for it,” Michael Yaeger, Girnun’s attorney, said.
U.S. District Court Judge Denis Hurley, who accepted the plea, emphasized that the guilty plea would waive a number of rights, including the government’s burden of proof, right to confrontation and public trial, and right against self-incrimination.
Girnun signed a multi-page plea agreement which he said he went over “extensively” with his attorney. As per the plea agreement, Girnun could face a maximum of 10 years in jail without parole, and “a fine to be determined,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release. He will also pay $225,000 in restitution, “which includes the NIH funds and approximately $147,000 from SBU’s foundation and state-sponsored grants.”
Girnun acknowledged that he understood all provisions in the plea agreement. He resigned from Stony Brook University in December 2019.
“With today’s guilty plea, Girnun has been held accountable for his unconscionable scheme to embezzle for his personal use [of] hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funds that were intended to help find a cure for cancer,” U.S. attorney Richard Donoghue said in a press release.
A Stony Brook University spokesperson wrote in an email that the university is “outraged and appalled” by Girnun’s theft.
“This behavior is absolutely contrary to the ethical and professional standards expected of our faculty,” the spokesperson said. “Dr. Girnun has resigned from the University and has no remaining affiliations.“
Girnun agreed not to appeal his sentence, which will be handed down in May.