There exists an important relationship between many federal agencies and various research universities. Many schools receive substantial federal grants to fund research for agencies such as the NASA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. But these grant funds come with strings attached. Researchers and universities that do not carefully account for the use of these funds can find themselves in serious trouble.
A federal fraud investigation spearheaded by NASA accuses the Vice President of Wheeling Jesuit University, and the university itself of conspiring to misuse grant funds that were intended for space program research. The investigators specifically allege that the salaries of numerous individuals, who were not related to the NASA research, were paid out of the federal grants. Among those salaries was that of the secretary at the university Vice President’s private law office.
According to documents filed in this matter, the University is suspected of being complicit in several separate federal criminal acts, including major fraud, conspiracy, theft of federal funds, wire fraud and false claims. The inspectors claim that not only did the vice president of the university misuse the federal grant funds, but also that other administrators at the university were informed of this fact on several occasions and failed to take any action.
While it remains to be seen whether federal grant funds were ever improperly used in this specific matter, it is not difficult to envision a circumstance in which researchers may open themselves to criminal charges. Any failure to fully segregate grant funds from normal operating funds could be viewed by investigators as a potentially fraudulent act despite the absence of any intent to defraud on the part of the researcher.
Source: Atlanta CBS News, “Ex-MSHA chief, W.Va. school accused of fraud,” Vicki Smith, April 13, 20212