Ex-USAID pandemic official sent taxpayer money to his private 'Virome Project,' watchdog says

House Republicans are still demanding answers from NIH about "possible fraud" by EcoHealth Alliance, which directed taxpayer funds to Wuhan lab.

Updated: March 27, 2022 - 12:14am

The U.S. Agency for International Development paid nearly half a million dollars in salary to the director of its Emerging Pandemic Threats Division while he was setting up a private virus-hunting entity that received USAID funds, raising ethics and possibly legal issues, according to a watchdog group.

Dennis Carroll became a minor celebrity early in the COVID-19 pandemic, even starring in the Netflix docuseries "Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak," which was filmed before the pandemic but debuted in early 2020. USAID hosted a screening with Carroll in Vietnam.

As part of its investigation of "potentially dangerous viral research funded through taxpayer dollars," public health watchdog U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) posted documents obtained through federal and California public records laws suggesting that Carroll played a crucial role in the private Global Virome Project (GVP) while he was on USAID's payroll.

Left-leaning good government groups expressed shock at Carroll's arrangement to USRTK. This is a "fundamental conflict of interest," even if Carroll found "some loophole out of the criminal statute because GVP wasn't technically a legal entity yet," said Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

"The Inspector General's office should investigate whether the law was broken and, upon finding probable cause, refer the case to the Department of Justice for prosecution," Public Citizen government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman told The Disinformation Chronicle, the newsletter written by former Senate Judiciary Committee investigator Paul Thacker.

GVP's website says it emerged from a 2016 forum attended by Carroll and others that aimed to "identify and characterize, within a decade, 99% of all zoonotic viruses with epidemic/pandemic potential."

While Carroll told a Yale University publication in spring 2020 that he left USAID before launching GVP in 2018, its cofounder Peter Daszak wrote in a May 2017 email that Carroll was working to "set up GVP meetings" for later that month. Daszak's EcoHealth Alliance has been embroiled in controversy for routing U.S. research grants to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, widely suspected to be the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In August 2017, using his Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory email, GVP board member Edward Rubin made a fundraising pitch that claimed Carroll's USAID division had "championed" GVP.

Rubin said the agency had invested around $180 million in a "successful proof of principle pilot project," referring to Carroll's PREDICT project at USAID, but now GVP needs private foundations to become "completely separate" from the U.S. government. 

Carroll even used his USAID email address in December 2018 to suggest himself and others as board members for GVP, which was formally incorporated after he left the agency. The email also mentions a planned "Netflix Pandemic Series." 

Other documents posted by USRTK show Carroll organizing GVP meetings, seeking donations and refining pitches, promoting GVP in the media and even consulting on its 501(c)(3) application to the IRS. They also show Cara Chrisman, USAID deputy division chief for emerging threats, regularly involved in GVP activities.

A federal employee salary database shows Carroll's USAID salary was just under $162,000 in 2017 and rose over the next two years, hitting the maximum allowed by "Level IV of the Executive Schedule" in 2019. A budget document shows USAID spent around $271,000 on "GVP" while he led the division.

EcoHealth's Daszak warned Carroll in March 2019 that "the lawyers" wanted to change the language of a forthcoming "Letter to the Board of Directors." 

By adopting their proposed revisions, which are redacted, "it's safer for us at this sensitive point where we still receive USAID funding being [used] for GVP related activities," Daszak wrote. USRTK said this suggests GVP's lawyers flagged "the overlap in Carroll's roles" at USAID and GVP.

Carroll now chairs GVP, which didn't respond to Just the News queries about the allegations and how the newly public documents should be interpreted. USAID told Just the News in mid-March it was working on a response to questions but has not further responded.

USAID told USRTK that GVP didn't receive taxpayer funding after its formal incorporation, which followed Carroll's exit from the federal government. The agency, however, reportedly didn't answer questions about how much GVP received from the feds or whether Carroll should have asked for an "ethics waiver."

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans haven't forgotten about the National Institutes of Health's funding relationship with the EcoHealth Alliance, either. 

Committee ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Reps. Brett Guthrie of Kentucky and Morgan Griffith of Virginia, ranking members for the health and investigations subcommittees, asked acting NIH Director Lawrence Tabak Feb. 24 why the agency was "either overlooking or taking insufficient action" regarding "possible fraud" by EcoHealth. 

NIH and the nonprofit have traded accusations in recent months about the agency's knowledge that the Wuhan lab had performed "gain of function" research and EcoHealth's compliance with grant conditions.

The Republicans cited "withheld data and possible double billing, missing laboratory notebooks and electronic files related to humanized mice research at the Wuhan lab, and EcoHealth's private donations that may not have been reported to NIH." 

Committee GOP spokesperson Jack Heretik told Just the News the members haven't received a response. Their deadline to Tabak was March 24.

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