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Official: Scheme at Iowa lab may have lasted years

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP)--A scheme in which federal veterinary lab workers allegedly obtained low-cost medicine intended for animals and used it for themselves and their relatives may have been going on for years, a top federal official said Feb. 5.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief veterinary officer, Dr. John Clifford, wouldn't elaborate on how department officials discovered the alleged scheme at the federal laboratory complex in Ames.

But he did tell The Associated Press in a telephone interview that "we are aware that some of this activity had been ongoing for a number of years."

On Feb. 4, the USDA announced it had placed 19 employees on paid leave as officials look into the allegations. They are trying to confirm whether lab workers used their credentials to obtain veterinary drugs that they used on themselves and gave to their families.

The drugs, primarily antibiotics, blood pressure medications and pain relievers, generally cost less than the same drugs packaged for human use. The allegations do not involve narcotics.

The names of the employees placed on leave weren't released, and officials said more could be involved. When asked if criminal charges could be filed, Clifford would say only that the findings of such investigations are typically shared with the Justice Department.

The sprawling laboratory complex near Ames houses three labs that employ about 900 people. Work done there includes testing for diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy and bird flu.

When the USDA suspected the problem, Clifford said, it contacted the Office of the Inspector General, which began looking into the allegations about a year ago.

"We are doing a good job of protecting American agriculture," Clifford said. "We had no indication of any effect on our ability to do our work and do it well here at the laboratory."



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