Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Another Perspective on the Trounson Flap: Columnist Lists It as Example of 'Possible Corruption'

The $3 billion California stem cell agency was mixed up with some bad company this week – part of the fallout from last month’s Trounson Affair. 

The agency was lumped together with some ne’er-do-wells in a column in California newspapers that was headlined:
“California state government awash in corruption, conflict of interest”
The piece was written by Tom Elias, a middle-of-the-road, longtime columnist whose work appears twice weekly in 93 newspapers with a circulation of 2.2 million. Elias wrote,
“To some, it seems almost as if California has lately become New Jersey West. Incidents of possible corruption and conflict of interest are seemingly exposed at least once a month these days, with almost no consequences for anyone involved.”
Top on his list was the business involving Trounson, who left the California stem cell agency June 30. Seven days later, he was appointed to the board of StemCells, Inc., which holds $19.4 million in awards from the agency, formally known as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

Second on Elias’ list was a case involving a consultant at another state department that was reminiscent of another situation at the stem cell agency. Elias said,
“A month earlier, this column caught the state Energy Commission earmarking more than $28 million in ‘hydrogen highway’ grants for a new company co-founded by a consultant who only months earlier drew the map determining where hydrogen refueling stations will go and then trained commission staff on how to evaluate grants.
“No conflict of interest there, the commission insisted. Right.”
The case at CIRM involved a “special advisor” by the name of  Saira Ramasastry, managing partner of Life Sciences Advisory, LLC, of Emerald Lake Hills, Ca. In 2012, she was named to the board of Sangamo BioSciences, Inc., a publicly traded firm based in Richmond, Ca. At the time of her appointment to the board, the firm shared in a $14.5 million grant from the agency. She also worked as a consultant to Sangamo.

Since then, Sangamo has received another $6.4 million from CIRM. The president of Sangamo, Edward Lanphier, told the agency last January,
“We wouldn't be where we are today without you.”
In 2013, Ramasastry received $99,662 in cash and stock options from the company, according to its filings with the Security and Exchange Commission.

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