The Justice Department has announced that it will join a fraud suit against a medical researcher who is accused of falsifying results of scientific work financed by government grants.

The suit against John L. Ninnemann charges that he falsely reported research results on progress reports and applications to renew grants from the National Institutes of Health.

It seeks recovery of $1.2 million in NIH grant money given to Ninnemann for research on the causes of immune system suppression after burn injuries that he performed at the University of Utah and the University of California, San Diego.

The action was first filed under the False Claims Act by J. Thomas Condie, Ninnemann's research assistant at Utah, the department said.

The Justice Department said its action in the case against Ninnemann will mark the first time it has brought a False Claims Act suit for scientific research fraud.

"The government's action in assuming responsibility for the case reflects our insistence that scientific research, especially when federally funded, be truthfully reported," Assistant Attorney General Stuart M. Gerson said in a statement Friday.

The lawsuit, still under court seal in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, charges that NIH paid $544,684 to the University of Utah and $749,098 to the University of California, San Diego, on the basis of false grant applications, the department said.

The suit seeks recovery of the money, plus triple damages, from Ninnemann and the two universities. The Justice Department said that responsible officials at both institutions certified the grant applications and progress reports that Ninnemann filed about his research.

The suit also seeks penalties between $5,000 and $10,000 for each of 14 false statements officials claim Ninnemann made in grant requests.

Under the Civil War-era law, citizens may file suit on behalf of the government to pursue allegations of fraud. The law allows the government to intervene and take over prosecution of the lawsuit if it determines the allegations have merit.

The citizens who bring successful False Claim Act suits typically receive 15 percent of a judgment.