Unfortunately, fraud within universities is not uncommon, and today’s case highlights a growing trend of grant fund misuse. Located in the mountains of West Virginia, Wheeling Jesuit University has agreed to pay $2.3 million it is alleged to have misused, all of which was provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for purposes of research and development.
Like many grant fraud cases, the allegations centered on the misallocation of funds, undocumented or unapproved expenses, and general mismanagement of federal (i.e., taxpayer) monies. The case was brought to light following a routine audit, which was conducted by NASA in 2012. Shortly thereafter, the federal government issued a search warrant against the university and began taking a more in-depth look at the university’s finances.
Despite the fact that there was no whistleblower involved in this particular case, whistleblowers are still encouraged to report and pursue wrongful misuse of federal grant money. These funds are often wasted on unnecessary and frivolous expenses, or are not put to use in accordance with the terms of the grant. By exposing this costly form of fraud, a whistleblower could not only prevent future misuse, but can also help ensure that only deserving and law-abiding programs receive these highly-competitive grants.
Details of the alleged fraud against Wheeling Jesuit University
The NASA program routinely funnels millions of dollars to colleges and universities for purposes of allowing aspiring engineers and researchers the opportunity to study the various fields possibly leading to employment with NASA or similar agencies. More specifically, the program offers collegiate grants to those pursuing science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM), so long as the university promises to abide by the terms of the grant, which include regulations relating to accounting and proper use of funds for expenses.
Allegedly, Wheeling Jesuit engaged in the consistent mischaracterization of costs, incurred prohibited costs, and misused federal money for a period spanning from 2003 through 2010. Moreover, the government had considered reclaiming ownership of a National Technology Transfer Center building located on the campus, but agreed to allow the university to continue ownership rights to the center.
All in all, the allegations led to a $2.3 million settlement, which the university has agreed to pay over the next five years, and which it promised will not come from federal aid money or private donations.
NASA said in a statement, “Wheeling Jesuit University applied to the federal government and received many millions of dollars in funding but failed to follow the rules that came with the resources….Grantees must use federal money for the purpose for which the grant was given, and for nothing else. The rules are clear and they exist to ensure that tax dollars are spent appropriately….Educational institutions, like everyone else, must be held accountable when the rules are broken. I’m hopeful that this agreement will allow the university to move forward and to continue to be an important and integral part of our community.”
Contact Berger Montague today
If you are aware of possible grant fraud or would like to discuss possible false claims within the educational, defense, or healthcare sectors, please do not hesitate to contact a competent whistleblower attorney at Berger Montague today.