by Jon Cohen on 19 November 2011, 6:46 PM
Judy Mikovits, who has been in the spotlight for the past 2 years
after Science published a controversial report by her group that tied
a novel mouse retrovirus to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), is now
Sheriffs in Ventura County, California, arrested Mikovits yesterday on
felony charges that she is a fugitive from justice. She is being held
at the Todd Road Jail in Santa Paula without bail. But ScienceInsider
could obtain only sketchy details about the specific charges against
The Ventura County sheriff's office told ScienceInsider that it had no
available details about the charges and was acting upon a warrant
issued by Washoe County in Nevada. A spokesperson for the Washoe
County Sheriff's Office told ScienceInsider that it did not issue the
warrant, nor did the Reno or Sparks police department. He said it
could be from one of several federal agencies in Washoe County.
Lois Hart, one of Mikovits's attorneys, says her client is being held
for extradition to Reno, Nevada, in relation to a civil lawsuit
against her filed by the Whittemore Peterson Institute for
Neuro-Immune Disease (WPI). Mikovits worked as the research director
at WPI, a nonprofit in Reno, for 2 years until she was fired by its
president, Annette Whittemore, on 29 September. On 4 November, WPI
filed suit against Mikovits, alleging that she had wrongfully kept her
laboratory notebooks and other information about her work for the
fledgling institute on her laptop, in flash drives, and in a personal
e-mail account. A preliminary injunction in the case is set to be held
by Nevada's Second District Judicial Court on 22 November. On that
same day, Mikovits has a hearing in Ventura County, California, where
she can contest extradition, Hart says.
Annette and her husband Harvey Whittemore, who has worked as a
high-profile attorney for the gaming industry and a major real estate
developer, started WPI to help find causes and treatments for CFS and
other neuroimmune diseases like Gulf War syndrome and fibromyalgia.
Their adult daughter has CFS.
Hart strongly denied the charges against her client. "She does not
have the notebooks, nor any 'proprietary items' from WPI," Hart wrote
ScienceInsider in an e-mail. "She is entitled to a copy of the
information she created."
On 7 November, a judge from the Nevada court granted a request for a
temporary restraining order against Mikovits to prohibit her from
"destroying, altering, disseminating, or using trade secrets and
confidential information." The order contended that "immediate and
irreparable injury, loss, or damage will result to WPI if it does not
get this relief." But the order does not explicitly forbid Mikovits,
who lives in Ventura, California, from leaving the state of Nevada.
After Mikovits and her research team's Science study appeared in
October 2009, many other groups around the world reported that they
could not find the mouse retrovirus, dubbed XMRV, in people who had
CFS. Mikovits and colleagues subsequently participated in a multilab
study that resulted in a September Science Express paper describing
how none of the teams could reliably find XMRV in blinded samples from
CFS patients. One lab Mikovits collaborated with in the 2009 Science
report simultaneously retracted its contribution after discovering
that a contaminant explained its XMRV findings.
UPDATE, November 19, 7:39pm EST:
Annette Whittemore, president of the Whittemore Peterson Institute,
has issued the following statement:
"The Whittemore Peterson Institute was required to report the theft of
its laboratory materials to law enforcement authorities. These
authorities are taking the actions that they deem necessary."