Questions Remain Over Suicide Death of Genentech Lobbyist

Published: Feb 16, 2017

Questions Remain Over Suicide Death of Genentech Lobbyist February 15, 2017
(Last Updated: February 16, 2017 at 10:42am PT)

By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

WASHINGTON – In 2015 Evan Morris, a powerful Washington lobbyist for Genentech , committed suicide. Morris was suspected of being involved in an alleged multimillion kickback scheme. But, as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week, the story is not over. Questions remain and a government investigation has begun.

Morris was head of government affairs for Genentech, so he was deeply connected to many federal lawmakers, as well as industry leaders. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, reporter Brody Mullins raised questions of who else may have been involved in the alleged kickback scheme. In his report, Mullins said Genentech began digging into Morris’ affairs before he died.

Investigators are looking into whether or not Morris took company money to pay for his extravagant lifestyle, which included multiple houses, multiple golf club memberships, a taste for expensive wines and cigars, as well as other pricey accoutrements. The company, according to Morris’ report, as well as that of the Huffington Post , began looking into Morris’ spending a few weeks before his death after it noticed “irregularities coming out of its Washington office.” That company probe continued after Morris’ suicide with a focus on consulting firms Morris “directed money toward.”

In his expose, Mullins cited financial documents that showed a flow of money from Genentech to clients and then from the clients back to Morris. As an example, Mullins reported that in 2012 Morris used $880,000 of company money to hire the firm of Jim Courtovich, a prominent Washington media consultant. Two payments were made to Courtovich’s Sphere Consulting for $440,000. However, days after the second payment was made by Genentech to Courtovich, Sphere Consulting cut a check for $448,986.22 to Morris. A Sphere spokesperson told the Journal that the company was “duped” by a false invoice provided by Morris.

Mullins reported that a similar incident took place with National Media. Also in 2012, Genentech paid that company $2 million for public affairs consulting and strategic counseling. Shortly after the final payment was made, National Media reportedly cut a check for $303,048.95 to the Hacker Boat Company, a company that made a luxury boat for Morris.

Morris was a fundraiser for Democratic candidates and held a fundraising party for party candidates the night before his death, the Huffington Post said. Morris got his start in politics serving as a White House gopher during the first term of former President Bill Clinton. Later, he played a role in securing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a speaking role at the 2014 Biotechnology Innovation Organization convention—a role for which she was paid $335,000, according to the New York Observer. The Observer also noted payments to multiple New Jersey lawmakers, many of which exceeded federal campaign contribution limits.

More is certain to come from the investigation.

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