Whittemore Peterson Institute seek millions in damages from fired researcher
Written by Martha Bellisle
8:01 PM, Feb. 28, 2012
Now that a judge has ruled in favor of the Whittemore Peterson
Institute in a civil case against a researcher who took a laptop,
notebooks and files after she was fired, the two sides are fighting
The Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease made world
headlines in 2009 after Dr. Judy Mikovits lead a team that discovered
a new retrovirus that could help treat chronic fatigue syndrome. But
the research was discredited last year and Mikovits lost her job. The
institute claimed she stole important research materials when she
left, a claim she denied.
But Washoe District Judge Brent Adams signed a default judgment last
month in favor of the institute, saying Mikovits failed to comply with
his rulings on releasing materials in the case.
A hearing on damages is expected this week. The institute is seeking
millions in salary and research costs as well as lost donations, while
Mikovits' lawyer, Dennis Jones, said her actions did not cause any
Criminal charges against Mikovits are pending, said her criminal
lawyer, Scott Freeman.
"At this point, Ms. Mikovits has returned all of the materials that
she had in her possession and they all are in evidence in the criminal
case," Freeman said. "The only reason the civil case was filed was
because she didn't give them up fast enough. But she has turned
Meanwhile, the institute is defending itself against two lawsuits
filed by the Wingfield Nevada Group, owned by Harvey Whittemore's
former partners. The suits claim the institute owes Wingfield $1.7
million for using its staff and a company jet.
The lawsuits are just three on a list that Whittemore has been
fighting in recent weeks. His former partners, Tom and Albert Seeno
Jr. of Concord, Calif., claim he embezzled funds from Wingfield, while
Whittemore claims in another suit that the Seenos are guilty of
racketeering. Two banks also sued Whittemore for millions in unpaid
loans. And a federal grand jury is reportedly meeting Wednesday to
hear testimony on Whittemore's campaign contribution activities.
Following the judge's ruling on the claim against Mikovits, the
institute's lawyer, Tom Bowen, filed a list of documents in
preparation for a hearing on damages, which indicates they want to be
refunded all costs associated with Mikovits' work.
One document shows Mikovits was paid $693,485 since starting with the
institute in 2007. Another lists research costs totaling $2.3 million
and grant reimbursements that came to $655,838. The documents also
claim the institute saw a drop in donations of $133,100 after Mikovits
Bowen also submitted copies of emails between Mikovits and various
colleagues as well as a statement by Max Pfost, who worked with
Mikovits at the institute. After she was fired, she directed Pfost to
go into her office and collect her materials, he said.
"I expressed some skepticism to Mikovits about whether she could take
the research and samples and stated that Dr. (Vince) Lombardi would
take over the projects and continue on behalf of WPI," Pfost said in
the affidavit. "Mikovits stated that she was in charge of the research
at WPI so technically it was her research and she could move it
somewhere else at any time."
Pfost said he went to WPI on Sept. 30 and took between 12 and 20
notebooks for Mikovits. He gave them to Mikovits on Oct. 16, he said,
and then she drove to Southern California.
"Mikovits informed me that she was hiding out on a boat to avoid being
served with papers from WPI," Pfost said in the affidavit. She was
arrested Nov. 18 in Ventura, Calif., after the Washoe County District
Attorney's office filed a criminal complaint alleging she stole
Mikovits' lawyer filed a trial statement last week in the WPI case
asking the judge to ignore the list of costs associated with salary
and research when considering damages in the case.
"WPI does not allege that Dr. Mikovits did anything to harm WIP while
she was employed," the statement said. "All of the alleged tortious
conduct occurred after WPI terminated Dr. Mikovits."
It also said that people who decided to stop making donations to the
institute did so only after Mikovits was fired. To support that claim,
Jones attached 20 emails from former supporters who said they opposed
the firing and would no longer make donations to the institute.
"I would like to explain why I ceased donating to the Whittemore
Peterson Institute," said Paul Kayes in one email. He said he donated
every month "but when Dr. Mikovits was sacked" he said he lost faith
with WPI and decided he would no longer support the institute.
Another former donor, Annabel Luery, said the Whittemores were to
blame for WPI problems.
"If the WPI is suffering from a lack of revenue then it is because of
the actions of the Whittemores and certainly not because of anything
Dr. Mikovits either said or did," Luery said in an email to Mikovits'