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Professor Embroiled in Plagiarism Brouhaha

PHOENIX (CN) - An Arizona State professor facing separate plagiarism allegations charged Phoenix $21,900 for police training material he took virtually as is from Chicago, which offers it for free, the city claims in court.

Phoenix sued The Whitaker Group, Matthew Whitaker and his wife Cassondra Whitaker, on Oct. 14 in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Arizona State University placed Whitaker on administrative leave in September while it investigates plagiarism allegations involving his book on black history. Whitaker has admitted that the book contains "unattributed and poorly paraphrased material." That fracas made headlines this summer along with the separate problems with the police training.

Seeking to improve community relations, Phoenix hired the Whitaker Group on June 1 to "plan and execute ... police legitimacy, procedural justice and cultural competency officer training" for its police department.

Matthew Whitaker agreed to do the work himself, and Phoenix paid him $21,900 to develop the training, lesson plan and PowerPoint slides. But Whitaker just copied Chicago's training material and passed it on, according to the complaint.

"Whitaker Group did not create the training, lesson plan, or slide presentation.

"Whitaker Croup obtained the slide presentation for the Phoenix training from the Chicago Police Department and sold Chicago's presentation to Phoenix (with minor changes).

"Whitaker Group charged Phoenix $21,900 for this 'work' notwithstanding that Chicago has a history of permitting other agencies (like the Phoenix Police Department) to use the training materials for free." (Parentheses in complaint.)

Yet Whitaker told Phoenix that he did the work "based solely on his personal knowledge and experience"; that he "did not misappropriate the training, lesson plan and slide presentation from any other source"; and that he owned the materials, the complaint states.

Whitaker knew those statements were false when he made them, but he took the money anyway, Phoenix says.

"While preparing the training, lesson plan, and slide presentation, Whitaker actively, consciously, and willfully planned and carried out a scheme to pass off the Chicago Police Department's training materials as his own and to sell the materials to Phoenix without disclosing that the materials were created and owned by Chicago," the lawsuit states.

Phoenix demanded its money back on Aug. 24.

Whitaker is founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Arizona State University and an ASU Foundation professor of history. He was retained as an associate professor despite previous allegations of plagiarism.

In May, he agreed to provide "cultural consciousness training" to Phoenix police on a one-year, $268,800 contract, according to the Arizona Republic.

But in a July 11 statement on the City of Phoenix website , City Councilman Sal DiCiccio

said that sole-bid contract had been "rushed through in 24 hours" without proper vetting, and demanded that it be canceled.

"Phoenix police insisted that this contract was thoroughly vetted, which now turns out to be false," DiCiccio wrote. "The council and the public were duped into believing this was a non-issue, which is now clearly not true. Those who pushed for this contract should be fully held accountable."

An ASU-commissioned investigation in July found plagiarism in Whitaker's recent book, "Peace Be Still: Modern Black America from World War II to Barack Obama."

Previously, in 2011, Whitaker was accused of plagiarizing contributions to an encyclopedia-style textbook for young readers, "African American Icons of Sport: Triumph, Courage, and Excellence."

Whitaker was demoted to an associate professor and co-director of the center in July, his foundation professorship was taken away, and he terminated his contract with Phoenix.

DiCiccio's July 11 posting includes a letter from Diciccio to the city manager, a "Dear Colleagues" letter of July 1 from Whitaker to ASU, and a follow-up July 8 "Dear Colleagues" letter from the ASU interim provost, about "significant issues" with the "Peace Be Still" book.

Whitaker's "Dear Colleagues" letter acknowledged that his book "contained unattributed and poorly paraphrased material."

Whitaker added: "Peace Be Still deals with history that is dear to me - told and read to me since childhood. I did not purport to write original history and I drew upon many established sources. I did intend to give full credit to all sources. But my critics have revealed numerous mistakes that I made. It is painful to recognize that I was so careless as to fail to properly paraphrase and cite sources, despite my reverence and respect for the work of others in this field."

In another post on the city website in August, DiCiccio called on Whitaker to return the training money.

"Professor Whitaker charged the city for training materials that were largely copied from the Chicago Police Department," DiCiccio wrote. "He ultimately was paid more than $21,000 in taxpayer money for work that he didn't do, and he needs to pay it all back."

DiCiccio said Whitaker's 84-slide presentation included just seven original slides, with 52 being exact copies or slides with just minor changes. The remaining 25 slides were either pictures or non-content pages, including welcome and title pages.

"The Whitaker Group needs to step up and refund this money so the city can put this embarrassing chapter behind it," DiCiccio wrote. "It is clearly not fair that taxpayers be the ones footing this bill."

The Whitaker Group called allegations that it plagiarized or improperly used the Chicago police material "patently false."

"The Whitaker Group LLC expressly notified the Phoenix Police Department that 83 percent of the material content it intended to utilize in training derived from the Chicago Police Department," the company said in a statement. It said the Chicago police were "fully aware that (the company) was providing training to the Phoenix Police Department."

Whitaker's letter says Whitaker billed the city $36,850 for the training materials, and it paid him $21,800. The city's lawsuit says it paid $21,900.

ASU placed Whitaker on administrative leave on Sept. 17.

Phoenix demands $21,900 for breach of contract, bad faith and intentional misrepresentation.

City Attorney Brad Holm filed the lawsuit.

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