UPenn Cancer Researcher Charged With Stealing From Department of Defense

Steven Johnson worked at the School of Medicine for 12 years.

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On Thursday, the United States Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia indicted former University of Pennsylvania cancer researcher Steven Johnson, 49, alleging that he “embezzled, stole and obtained by fraud” property from the United States Department of Defense.

Johnson worked at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine from 1998 to 2010, although he is still listed on the Penn Medicine website. (The office number provided there has been disconnected.) During his tenure, he published several papers with titles like “Gene expression profiling of human ovarian tumours” and “Current status of oxaliplatin in colorectal cancer.”


In 2005, according to the indictment, Johnson started his own business, RealTimePrimers, which sells scientific materials related to DNA research. That business is operated out of Johnson's home in Elkins Park.

One year after opening RealTimePrimers, Johnson applied for a federal grant from the Department of Defense. The grant was to be used for ovarian cancer research at the University of Pennsylvania. Johnson won the grant, and the DoD provided $65,000 every three months or so from June 2007 through December 2009, totaling approximately $656,000 in funds.

The U.S. Attorney claims that Johnson then used some of that money to acquire and test materials that he then allegedly turned around and sold through RealTimePrimers, and they have charged him with one count of theft from a program receiving federal funds. And because he shipped the materials to his customers via FedEx, they've also thrown in 10 mail fraud charges for good measure.

Reached at his RealTimePrimers office for comment, Johnson promptly hung up the phone. A bench warrant has been issued for his arrest. If convicted, Johnson faces a maximum possible sentence of 210 years imprisonment, a three-year period of supervised release, and a $2.75 million fine.

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  • Oliver

    Probably a stupid question, but why was a cancer researcher getting grants from the Department of Defense and not, say, the FDA or WHO or some agency related to medicine?

  • Bob Dobolino

    You don’t think veterans get cancer, or active soldiers?

  • cra

    these are competitive grants, and a competent, decent and honest researchers lost the opportunity to be granted these funds which were misused by this person