Dr. Richard Borison and Bruce Diamond appeared to have it made at the Medical College of Georgia.
The two had published widely and won dozens of research contracts from pharmaceutical companies to study drugs aimed at fighting Alzheimer's disease, anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.
They also drove luxury cars and lived lavishly. Prosecutors say that's because they swindled more than $10 million from 1988 to 1996 and disregarded patient safety in their quest to get results.
Both men have pleaded not guilty.
Relatives of patients enrolled in their studies are outraged.
"I just feel like we've been betrayed," said Janis Huckeba, whose husband was in two studies for drugs to combat Alzheimer's. "The more I learn about them, the more I feel like it's a slap in the face."
Borison was chairman of the college psychiatry department; Diamond was a professor but not a medical doctor. The 172-count indictment issued in February includes charges of theft, bribery, tax evasion, conspiracy and racketeering. They're each free on $1-million bond as they await trial.
Neither has returned phone messages seeking comment.
The men amassed almost half a million dollars' worth of antiques, art and other amenities for their homes, such as a $32,000 stone lion fountain, a $1,000 palace rug and four bronze doors adorned with a lion's head worth $16,000, the indictment said.
"I plead him guilty to having good taste," said Borison's lawyer, Michael Garrett.
The two men tried to flee and contacted people in other countries for help, according to affidavits from a state investigator. When Diamond was arrested in February outside an Augusta bank, he was carrying $9,900 in cash, a packed suitcase and a new passport.
The affidavits include a March 1996 letter to them from an accountant in London. The letter reads: "As you are aware, I have built up a wealth of very useful contacts--worldwide. In your case, I also know of others in the same line of business who I am sure could help. I recommend you try and make the finals of Wimbledon!?"
At least once, Borison and Diamond told the Medical College that they had ended a study because of a lack of patients, while they actually continued it on their own, said Malcolm Kling, the school's interim vice president for research.
The two also asked the drug companies to make their checks out to fictitious firms to divert money that should have gone to the school, the indictment said.
Some drug companies didn't care who got paid as long as the research was done, according to the investigator's affidavits.
"He's world-renowned," Garrett said of his client, Borison. "Most of the drug companies dealt with him because of who he was, not because he was at the Medical College of Georgia."
William Kennedy, vice president of Zeneca Inc. of Wilmington, Del., said his company chose Borison and Diamond to do studies on its schizophrenia drug, Seroquel, because of that personal reputation.
But some patients were enrolled in the study only because of the medical college, their relatives said.
"We constantly hear about their studies," said Huckeba, of North Augusta, S.C. "The reputation the college has, you just don't question it."
Both the indictment and a separate report by the Food and Drug Administration found flaws in the researchers' practices.
Diamond and others with no medical training diagnosed patients and decided dosages for experimental drugs, the FDA report said.
Patients' charts indicated they'd been seen by a doctor when they hadn't, and Diamond routinely forged Borison's signature on lab reports and other documents, the FDA said.
Diamond also was charged in several counts with prescribing drugs without a license.
The FDA said any possible misconduct did not affect conclusions about the effectiveness of seven prescription drugs they tested. But it is investigating their conclusions in several pending drug applications.
When one patient attempted suicide while on an experimental drug for schizophrenia, Borison and Diamond tried to buy the silence of a study coordinator so she would not file a complaint, the indictment said.
"The charges of patient neglect are cruel and absurd," Garrett said. "Those allegations hurt him more than the allegations of stealing."