A Maryland woman was arrested last week after trying to steal medical samples and materials from the National Institutes for Health, according to court filings.
Chinyere Okunji, who was found wandering in a lab coat and trying to open locked freezers, was charged with trying to steal US property.
According to the criminal complaint, on August 21 Okunji “entered restricted areas of the hospital by following authorized medical personnel into those areas.” She was allegedly stopped by hospital personnel several times, but claimed she was “a doctor, was going to see a patient, was with the phlebotomy lab, and was with another clinic.”
By the time she was apprehended, she was found with patient bags filled with a “rack of vials containing antibodies,” “human peptides” and “sequencing grade modified trypsin,” all of which were not usable after taking them from their refrigerated environments, the criminal complaint stated. She also stole general lab equipment, including a thermometer and “hundreds” of slides, the complaint said.
It is unclear what the total value is of everything stolen, or the impact it will have on related research.
During a court hearing at the US District Court in Greenbelt on Wednesday, Okunji was ordered detained pending trial. Judge Timothy Sullivan cited lack of housing and her “physical and mental condition,” among other things, as the reason for her detainment.
NIH declined to comment and hasn’t explained how Okunji could’ve gotten through security.
Okunji’s defense attorney also declined to comment.