Scientist used NIH ties to bring youths to U.S. Sources say Gajdusek wrote letters of transit on institute letterhead

April 12, 1996|By Scott Higham and Marcia Myers | Scott Higham and Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

A Nobel laureate charged with sexually abusing a boy he brought back from Micronesia used his professional ties to the prestigious National Institutes of Health to help him sponsor children he took home from the South Pacific, according to law enforcement sources.

Dr. Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, 72, wrote letters of transit for several children on NIH letterhead and presented the papers as travel documents to immigration officials in the United States, the sources said.

The internationally recognized scientist also listed his name, NIH and its address in Bethesda on immigration forms, satisfying a TTC section of the document that requests information about who will support the children while they are in the United States, according to the sources.

The travel documents and other revelations raise questions about what NIH supervisors knew or should have known about Dr. Gajdusek's relationship to the children he found while working overseas for the institution, and how he managed to bring at least 56 of them to Maryland.

The NIH travel documents span 22 years, from 1968 to 1990.

So far, investigators have not uncovered information showing that NIH officials knew the Nobel Prize-winning scientist had invoked the name of the institution to help transport the children to his homes in Montgomery and Frederick counties.

"But it would be pretty hard to argue that NIH didn't know what he was doing," one source said. "That doesn't mean they knew specifically how he was bringing the children here. But this was no secret at NIH."

NIH officials refused to discuss the travel records yesterday, other than to say that NIH documents are to be used for NIH business.

"Since this is a law enforcement matter, I'm not in a position to discuss these issues," NIH spokesman Donald M. Ralbovsky said.

Mr. Ralbovsky also declined to say whether NIH ever questioned Dr. Gajdusek about his ties to the children he was bringing into the United States, or about his sexually suggestive writings in his professional journals.

The scientist penned sexual passages about children and defended the practice of childhood sex in his journals. He wrote and published them while serving as an NIH lab chief, and they are kept at NIH's library.

For years, colleagues say, rumors about the scientist and the children have been swirling in scientific circles. Some colleagues became so concerned about the journals, they reported them to the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees NIH. The tip then was turned over to the FBI and ultimately resulted in the current criminal case.

The NIH spokesman also said he didn't know whether institute officials were aware in 1989 that Montgomery County detectives were investigating the scientist for sexual child abuse allegations. No charges were filed.

Researchers said they wouldn't be surprised if NIH chose to look the other way.

"He's a Nobel Prize winner," said Roy Wagner, an anthropologist at the University of Virginia who has followed Dr. Gajdusek's work. "I think that means it was probably too touchy a subject for them to pull out and talk to him about."

Dr. Gajdusek's attorney, Mark J. Hulkower, declined to talk about the travel documents. So did immigration officials, citing an active criminal investigation.

Dr. Gajdusek faces four counts of sexual child abuse and perverted practice for allegedly assaulting a 15-year-old boy he brought to Maryland from Micronesia in 1987. The boy, now a 23-year-old college student, told FBI agents that Dr. Gajdusek had sex with him at the scientist's home in Middletown in Frederick County.

Dr. Gajdusek also admitted in a secretly recorded telephone conversation with the teen that he had sex with other boys, according to an FBI account of the conversation.

FBI agents are trying to locate and interview the children Dr. Gajdusek brought from Micronesia and New Guinea, where he discovered a deadly virus that was transmitted by cannibalism in the 1960s and 1970s. He shared the 1976 Nobel Prize for his

discovery.

Investigators are trying to determine how the scientist ferried the children into the country, and whether he violated U.S. laws barring the importation of people for "immoral" purposes.

Typically, immigration agents require several pieces of information before allowing foreign children to enter the United States, aside from passports. Children traveling as visitors or students need documents showing the purpose of their trips, where they plan to stay and study, and how they will support themselves. Dr. Gajdusek's letters from NIH served as those travel documents.

In the letters, Dr. Gajdusek wrote that the children would live with him, he would take care of them financially, and he would be responsible for their travel to and from the United States.

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