Former Moffitt director speaks out after suing center amid China scandal

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A prestigious scientist at Moffitt Cancer Center believes his name has been dragged through the mud after he was forced to resign late last year.

It began as an international scandal.

Federal authorities warned that China was stealing American-funded research. Soon, Tampa Bay’s world-famous cancer hospital, and scientists including Dr. Thomas Sellers, came under fire.

Now, Dr. Sellers, Moffitt’s former director of Cancer Research, is defending his reputation.

“I want to clear my name. I have done nothing wrong,” said Dr. Sellers, “They said I was involved in the Thousand Talent program, that I had a laboratory in China… None of it was true.”

At the center of this case is a controversial Chinese recruitment program called Thousand Talents.

Dr. Sellers, a researcher with a Ph.D. said, he had nothing to do with the now contentious program. Still, once the feds and Moffitt started to investigate China’s meddling, Seller said he was forced to leave.

“The impact on my wife … kills her,” he said. “It’s been hard on me too.”

Federal authorities believe the Chinese used this program to recruit scientists and steal intellectual property, data and technology.

Dr. Sellers said investigators with Moffitt approached him with the allegations last year.

“They whip out this thick application, it was in Chinese. I said, ‘I’ve never seen that before.'”

According to Sellers, his name was forged on a program application.

Brandon Scheele, a Morgan & Morgan attorney, just filed a defamation lawsuit against Moffitt.

“What they did was bomb the village to save the castle,” Scheele said. “They wanted to distance themselves completely from anyone who had the appearance of being involved in this Thousand Talent program.”

A Moffitt investigative report states that Sellers was part of the program and had a bank account in China.

8 On Your Side Investigates reached out to the cancer center for comment and we received the following statement.

“Moffitt stands behind its findings from the investigation of Dr. Sellers and will vigorously defend any legal action filed against the Cancer Center.”

Director of Strategic Communications Mark Hendrickson

Meantime, Dr. Sellers said finding a cure is personal to him. He lost his mother to cancer. Now he feels he has been sidelined.

“We were so close to having really huge discoveries that was going to impact the prevention and cure of cancer.”

Seller’s attorney also released the following statement:

“Dr. Thomas Sellers is a renowned researcher who has dedicated his life to finding a cure for cancer. His reputation was beyond reproach, and he always acted in the best interests of the hospital. The complaint alleges that Moffitt Cancer Center wrongly forced him to resign, and then compounded the damage by knowingly making false statements against Dr. Sellers, causing severe damage to his reputation and career. This lawsuit is the first step in repairing Dr. Sellers’ sterling reputation so he can continue his life’s calling—ending cancer for good.”

Moffitt isn’t the only institution that’s come under fire. Federal investigations are happening at other research facilities across the country.

8 On Your Side will continue to follow this story.

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