SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT: Research animal death (Part 2)

Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- An On Your Side investigation is looking into allegations of fraud, forgery and a cover-up at Augusta University. An animal researcher says the University lied to the federal government about how a monkey died, but that's not all.

Read part one of our investigation here.

Our investigation has linked a faculty grievance hearing at AU from March of 2016 to a whistleblower complaint that alleges criminal activity.

"My choice was, do I simply keep quiet about the falsifications. Or report it, hope that the university does the right thing, and in the process, make sure I wouldn't have to go to jail because I did my legal duty."

That's Augusta University researcher Dr. Jay Hegde, on the record and under oath.

The recording is from the faculty grievance hearing he requested where he asks a jury of his peers to bring in outside investigators to look into the death of his research monkey, Ovetchkin.

"If you question the administrators, especially legal," he said, "there will be hell to pay."

Dr. Hegde believes his monkey died of an overdose, but the university maintains Ovetchkin never woke up after the surgery.

"I mean, the surgical log did not represent the facts. It made it look like something else," he said.

Dr. Hegde claims parts of the surgical log were forged. In late 2014, the university said it investigated those claims, interviewing the vet tech whose initials are on the log. According to its report, that tech said the documents were "authentic."

Dr. Hegde's testimony, however, alleged something very different.

"He did not initial...you can see for yourself that they are different. But then it is also confirmed by a handwriting expert."

In a sworn affidavit introduced during the hearing, retired FBI Agent Charles Perrotta determined the person with other entries on the surgical log "did not prepare any of the questioned five (5) sets of "CB" initials."

"In other words," Dr. Hegde said, "somebody filled it in and basically put in his initials."

Dr. Hegde says some brain pictures the university released to him are further proof. Augusta University says they are from Ovetchkin's necropsy, or animal autopsy report, but Dr. Hegde says that isn't his monkey's brain."

"To take this brain intact like that would not be possible because it would fall apart, " he testified.​

He says he left the brain in the skull and disposed of it.

"In other words, the brain section that they say the necropsy's based on, doesn't even belong to the same monkey," he testified.

Dr. Hegde says he also compared tissue samples and "they don't even belong to the same species."

Question from panel: "Would it be possible, in your estimation, that it was just complete incompetence like their writing out the report was just total incompetence..."

Dr. Hegde: "I don't..."
Panel: "…pursuing the proper information?"
Dr. Hegde: "How do you….this is like saying it's possible somebody forged a check out of incompetence."

While Dr. Hegde alleges documents were changed on purpose, he believes Ovetchkin's death was an accident.

In documents submitted to the federal government, the university says there was "neither negligence nor malpractice on the part of our investigators or veterinary care team."

Sociology professor Dr. William Reese testified at the hearing that the University brought him in as an objective third party twenty months prior to that 2016 hearing.

"Ultimately, I try to protect and represent the interests of the university, " he said under oath.

"I looked at the evidence and decided Jay was telling the truth." He goes on to say, "It became increasingly obvious to me, and I'm sorry if that makes me sound biased, that the evidence was highly weighted in favor of Jay's position. I am on the record several times telling the university, you do not want this case to go to trial because we will lose."

Panel question: "Do you feel that anyone, outside of anyone present here today, was trying to persuade you one way or the other to change your opinion or statements that you would give today?"

Dr. Reese: "Yes, professionally. Tactfully. But yes. In fact, if you want me to amplify that just a little bit, in effect I was told what the university's position was in such a way that it appeared to me that what they were trying to do was convince me I was wrong and the university was right."

After the hearing , the panel recommended that an external entity investigate, as Dr. Hegde requested. Augusta University President, Dr. Brooks Keel, responded in a letter, saying he would not be following their recommendation. He didn't give a reason, but the University has always maintained there have been a number of outside investigations already.​

Click here to read Part 3.