University fires professor convicted of lying about theft at Cleveland Clinic

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) - A researcher sentenced to probation for lying to investigators about the alleged theft of research materials from the Cleveland Clinic has been fired by the University of Kansas.

Hiroaki Serizawa, an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, pleaded guilty last week to making false statements to the FBI regarding the storage of genetic materials for studies of Alzheimer's disease in summer 1999.

"He's off the payroll at the end of June," University of Kansas Medical Center spokesman Dennis McCulloch said.

Serizawa was sentenced to three years probation, 150 hours of community service and a $500 fine. He pleaded guilty last year to avoid economic espionage charges.

Serizawa admitted that he lied to FBI agents in September 1999 about having contact with Takashi Okamoto, who was a researcher at the Cleveland Clinic at the time, and about the number of vials of genetic material he was storing at his lab for Okamoto.

The government alleges that Okamoto removed research samples from the clinic, brought them to Serizawa's lab for storage, and left several hundred vials full of tap water in their place.

Okamoto is charged with conspiracy, economic espionage and interstate shipment of stolen property. The Justice Department intends to seek his extradition from Japan.

Serizawa has been under "increased supervision" since 2001 and spends little time on campus, McCulloch said.

"He has no active projects going," he said. "He's basically doing little more than coming in and picking up his mail."

McCulloch said Serizawa has completed a research project since he was notified of his dismissal earlier this year.

"We have to emphasize there is no violation of research going on this campus," McCulloch said. "There is no loss of integrity of our research. This was a personal situation between Mr. Serizawa
and the other research in Cleveland. It has not and will not impact anything here."

David Zapol and Diana Laird, two professors at Stanford University, are seeking a pardon for Serizawa as well as raising funds to help the researcher pay his legal bills.

On their Web site, Zapol and Laird say the case is an "unprecedented assault" on the free exchange of ideas and research materials by scientists.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)