WASHINGTON-The close of the six-year, $27 million Wireless Technology Research L.L.C. program has re-energized a public debate about whether mobile telephones cause cancer or pose other health problems to the nation’s 70 million wireless subscribers.
Indeed, WTR Chairman George Carlo claims new studies suggest a possible mobile phone-cancer link. While saying the results do not rise to the level of a public-health problem, Carlo insists the findings demand serious attention of the federal government and wireless industry.
Carlo’s research is no less controversial than the man himself. There have been fights with scientists, lawyers and industry leaders over a host of issues. Congress and the Food and Drug Administration have even dabbled in the crossfire at times. And now, Carlo believes his reputation has wrongly come under fire.
But Carlo’s travails are not just about Carlo and WTR. The fireworks that erupted during the past six years underscore the complexities in addressing scientific issues in a highly political public forum and doing so without creating hysteria in the media and public.
Mobile phone carriers around the country continue to meet resistance to antenna siting because of concerns over the impact of towers on health, aesthetics and property values.
In the end, Carlo indeed delivered research-though not as much as some believe $27 million could buy and certainly not the kind of research the cellular industry wanted to see. Of the total, about $2 million went to resolving interference from mobile phones to medical devices.
Behind the scenes, as WTR wraps up its work and Carlo prepares to officially announce results of his cancer studies at a conference later this month in Long Beach, Calif., a different controversy has erupted out of the public eye.
This flare-up, like so many others before it, has come to symbolize the rocky tenure of George Carlo.
The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, which hired Carlo and publicly stood behind him for the past six years, was served with two subpoenas in connection with two of several lawsuits filed against Carlo in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
One subpoena sought all documents related to CTIA funding of WTR and the other requested testimony from a CTIA official.
None of that sat well with CTIA President Thomas Wheeler, who, according to Carlo, confronted him about the subpoenas. Carlo said he assured Wheeler the allegations were baseless, but it appears drawing CTIA into the lawsuits all but killed any chance Carlo had of conducting follow-up cancer research or market surveillance for the trade group.
Carlo, for his part, said it would have been a logical next step to continue his work for CTIA in light of WTR results and his heavy investment in WTR projects.
The lawsuits involve in one form or the other George Carlo and his wife, Patricia, equal business partners in WTR’s sister company, Health & Environmental Services Ltd. WTR and HES share the same facilities and personnel.
In addition to HES and WTR, Carlo heads a number of other public-health projects.
The Carlos, who are in the midst of a nasty divorce, have accused each other of misappropriating funds and other improprieties in a lawsuit in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia that was headed for dismissal late last week. The plaintiffs moved to drop their claims against George Carlo. In exchange, George Carlo is dropping all counter claims in the same lawsuit.
Patricia Carlo, through her attorney, declined comment. She oversees financial matters for HES.
Glen Franklin Koontz, the lawyer who originally brought the lawsuit on behalf of HES (before HES was dismissed as a plaintiff) against Carlo and Thorne Auchter, former head of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration in the Reagan administration, has vowed to rekindle allegations in the near future against Carlo that could implicate WTR.
“WTR is basically an instrument of George Carlo. He has used it for his own purposes,” said Koontz. “There will be more lawsuits.”
Carlo said Elizabeth Hughes, an attorney for Patricia Carlo, sought to withdraw the lawsuit against Carlo because it was a weak case.
“Mr. Carlo and his attorneys are whistling past the grave and I wouldn’t be too confident that that surmise is correct,” said Koontz. Hughes, for her part, declined comment.
Koontz said CTIA cooperated and complied with the subpoenas, noting the association had no knowledge of the alleged misconduct by Carlo and WTR.
CTIA says all WTR audits to date have come back clean and that a final audit will be conducted now that WTR has finished its work.
Koontz has his doubts. “There’s a good possibility that the audits may not be kosher and we’re looking into that,” he said.
WTR and CTIA, despite nagging questions about how Carlo spent the $27 million, have steadfastly refused to release the audits.
Carlo said all WTR expenditures were approved by an audit committee.
The lawsuits appear to have taken a toll on Carlo. Carlo said Koontz lacks legal standing, and is using the legal process to harass him into giving up as much marital property as possible. In doing so, Carlo said Koontz is destroying his reputation in the scientific community.
“I unequivocally deny every allegation that has been made in every one of the lawsuits,” said Carlo. “I am sickened by the fact that this has been taken out of the courtroom and into the public by Mr. Koontz.”
This week, Carlo said his attorneys plan to file a lawsuit against Koontz for defamation of character, misuse of process, fraudulent misrepresentations and tortious interference with business relationships.