Nevada prosecutors have dismissed criminal charges against Judy Mikovits, the researcher whose findings offered hope to thousands of chronic fatigue syndrome patients before they were retracted and her life became mired in legal trouble.
The criminal charges against Mikovits stemmed from allegations that she wrongfully took lab notebooks, a computer and other proprietary data from her former employer, the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease in Reno, Nev., which fired her in September.
Mikovits was charged in November with two felonies — possession of stolen property and unlawful taking of computer data, equipment, supplies and other computer-related property.
"Dr. Mikovits always knew she would be exonerated once the proper investigation into the facts had been conducted," said Mikovits' attorney, Tammy Riggs. "She is happy that the complaining witnesses' attempt to destroy her reputation failed and now she can go back to doing the only thing she has ever wanted to do, which is find a cure for chronic fatigue syndrome."
WPI's attorney Ann Hall said the institute was disappointed that the criminal charges were dropped and that Mikovits still has not returned all of the missing property.
"That is one of the reasons why we are so disappointed. We still don't have the data, the notebooks, the materials back," she said. Hall said the institute will continue to pursue the civil lawsuit it filed against Mikovits.
Mikovits and her attorney did not respond to requests for comment; nor did the Washoe County district attorney's office in Nevada.
Some patients reacted to the news with relief and redoubled support for Mikovits. Her friend Dr. Jamie Deckoff-Jones, who has had chronic fatigue syndrome for decades, wrote in an email: "I was thrilled for Dr. Mikovits when I heard. I am also happy for the patient community, because she will be ungagged finally."
The saga began in 2009 when a team of scientists led by Mikovits published a paper in the journal Science that linked chronic fatigue syndrome to a retrovirus called XMRV.
The potential breakthrough elated people with chronic fatigue syndrome, an illness that had baffled scientists and doctors for decades. Not waiting for other scientists to confirm the finding, Mikovits began linking XMRV to autism and other disorders, despite a lack of evidence. Some patients, including Deckoff-Jones, began taking anti-retroviral drugs designed to treat HIV.
But other teams of scientists repeatedly failed to replicate the Mikovits team's results, and evidence mounted that the finding was actually the result of lab contamination.
In September, a study was published showing the Whittemore Peterson Institute could not reliably find evidence of XMRV in patients' blood. The institute fired Mikovits and later filed suit. Mikovits was arrested in California in November, and Science retracted her paper the following month.
This week's dismissal of charges was a bit of good news for Mikovits and her frustrated supporters.
"The charges against Dr. Mikovits never seemed to hold water to many of us in the patient community," one supporter, Boston playwright Rivka Solomon, wrote in an email. "In this whole three-year drama we've all watched unfold, many of us feel Mikovits has acted really selflessly. I hold her in very high esteem."
Hall said the charges were dismissed not because the case lacked merit but because of issues related to the family of institute founder Annette Whittemore. Her husband, Harvey, a Nevada lobbyist and lawyer, was indicted June 6 by a federal grand jury on charges he made illegal campaign contributions to a congressman, caused a campaign committee to make false statements to the Federal Election Commission and lied to FBI agents, according to the Department of Justice.
Harvey Whittemore was arraigned June 7 and pleaded not guilty to all counts. His attorneys John Arrascada and Dominic Gentile emphasized in an email that Whittemore did not sit on the institute board of directors. "The federal indictment has absolutely nothing to do with the foundation or its ongoing mission to discover a cure for chronic fatigue syndrome," they wrote.