Updated, April 2, 12:30 p.m.:
Members of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas oversight committee who served on the board of the former CPRIT Foundation have left the organization in an effort to cut ties with the nonprofit that supplemented the salaries of CPRIT officials.
Amid the controversy, the nonprofit recently reconstituted itself as the Texas Cancer Coalition, and the Texas attorney general has opened an investigation to stop the new organization from spending money that had been donated to benefit CPRIT. In the last month, Jimmy Mansour, the chairman of the oversight committee, Joseph Bailes, the vice chairman of the oversight committee, and committee member Barbara Canales resigned from their positions on the CPRIT Foundation board.
The Texas Cancer Coalition board now consists of Bob Wingo and Cindy Brinker-Simmons, both former members of the CPRIT Foundation board and Doug Allison, a lawyer from Corpus Christi.
Without receiving state approval, the nonprofit associated with the beleaguered Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the CPRIT Foundation, has reconstituted itself as the Texas Cancer Coalition. In response, the attorney general’s office has ordered the organization to cease and desist spending or distributing funds donated to benefit the scandal-plagued agency.
"The TCC's proceeding with its own formation and asserting ownership over CPRIT Foundation funds, in the absence of state authorization, necessarily raises substantial questions,” Assistant Deputy Attorney General David Whitley wrote in a letter to the nonprofit. The attorney general’s office, at the request of CPRIT, has opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the organization's latest move.
Marc Palazzo, a spokesman for the former CPRIT Foundation, said the organization did not need state approval to reconstitute itself as the Texas Cancer Coalition, because it is a nonprofit.
“Clearly, the mission and viability of the CPRIT Foundation was compromised due to issues associated with the CPRIT Institute,” Palazzo wrote in an email to the Tribune. “As a result, the CPRIT Foundation Board took the initiative to broaden its mission and reorganize its board, adopting the name Texas Cancer Coalition, and voted to end the practice of supplementing salaries of the institute's executives.”
Legislators authorized creation of the CPRIT Foundation in 2009 to supplement the salaries of the institute's executive director and chief scientific officer, an effort to help the state attract top talent. The foundation is not allowed to accept donations from CPRIT grantees.
In recent months, the institute has been embroiled in controversy, after a state audit revealed that three grants — totaling $56 million — were approved without proper peer review. The largest donor to the CPRIT Foundation, Peter O'Donnell, was also an investor in one of the CPRIT grantees that received financing without proper peer review, leading to speculation about potential conflicts of interest between the nonprofit and the agency.
The Travis County district attorney’s office is conducting an investigation to determine whether the actions of former CPRIT employees were criminal. And state leaders called for a moratorium on CPRIT grants in December, which left on hold a combined $183 million in approved grants.
Palazzo said the board of the CPRIT Foundation planned to pay the nonprofit’s debts, such as legal bills and salaries, then give the foundation’s remaining money to CPRIT. The reconstituted nonprofit, the Texas Cancer Coalition, would then raise new financing to pursue a similar mission, he said. For example, the board hopes the Texas Cancer Coalition will continue operating an annual conference that brings hundreds of renowned cancer researchers to Texas.
Wayne Roberts, the interim executive director of CPRIT, said the institute, the former CPRIT Foundation and the attorney general’s office are working together to “wind down the operations” of the nonprofit and ensure funds raised prior to the name change will be given to CPRIT.
State leaders gave CPRIT permission in March to move forward on contract negotiations for 25 grants worth $72 million that were approved before the moratorium took effect. The grants would bring cancer researchers to Texas, many of whom have already moved their labs and families to Texas.