updated 4/4/2005 8:20:11 PM ET 2005-04-05T00:20:11

A former medical school professor accused of fabricating research data on menopause, aging and hormone supplements pleaded guilty Monday to fraudulently obtaining a $542,000 federal grant.

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Eric T. Poehlman, 49, could get up to five years in prison and $250,000 fine at sentencing July 18.

The former University of Vermont College of Medicine was accused of making up research between 1992 and 2000 to win millions of dollars in grant money from the federal government.

Under a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements in an application for a grant on hormone replacement therapy from the National Institutes of Health.

“This is an unprecedented case,” federal prosecutor Stephen Kelly said. “We’re taking an aggressive approach.” The charge “gives us some assurance that we’ve corrected the scientific record.”

Poehlman, who now works as research consultant in Montreal, also agreed to pay $180,000 to settle a civil complaint. In addition, he is barred by the government from receiving Public Health Research funds and must retract or correct 10 articles.

In a paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 1995 on the metabolic effects of menopause, Poehlman fabricated test results on 32 of 35 women, Kelly said.

Poehlman also made up the results from a 1999-2000 hormone replacement therapy study, prosecutors said. He suggested that hormone replacement therapy slowed weight gain in post-menopausal women.

“This not an excuse, but there is a lot of pressure on academic researchers to produce grants,” defense attorney Robert Hemley said. He added that Poehlman “did a lot of very good important scientific work over a long period of time.”

UVM started to investigate Poehlman in 2000 after one of his research assistants accused him of scientific misconduct. During the investigation, Poehlman deleted electronic evidence of his falsifications, presented false testimony and documents and influenced other witnesses to provide false information, prosecutors said.

Poehlman resigned from the medical school in 2001.

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