(CN) – The Texas A&M University Research Foundation will pay the federal government $750,000 to resolve fraudulent grant charges brought by two whistleblowers under the False Claims Act.
The settlement announced Thursday comes after two research foundation employees stepped forward in a 2013 lawsuit claiming to have witnessed their employer allowing personnel to ignore federal restrictions and permitting the overcharging of salaries, which inflated grant expenses, according to the federal prosecutors.
An investigation found that from January 2007 through November 2016, the research foundation improperly charged additional compensation to federal grants for academic employees at the university who were ineligible to receive such pay.
The government also alleged the research foundation charged various federal grants for expenses not allowable to them, including salaries and wages for individuals not working on the grants and supplies and equipment unrelated to the grants. There were also travel expenses that should not have been charged to grants.
“DOE – Office of Inspector General (OIG) is committed to ensuring the integrity of our grant recipients by holding accountable those who choose to engage in false claim and mischarging schemes,” said Acting Inspector General April G. Stephenson of DOE. “This settlement is the result of a joint investigation which protected the government from inflated claims.”
Based in College Station, the Texas A&M University Research Foundation is an independent nonprofit service organization focused on facilitating research and development within the Texas A&M University System. It receives grant awards from various federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, Department of Education, Department of Transportation and NASA.
The two whistleblowers will share an award of $142,500 for their roles in assisting the federal government in prosecuting the claims. They were represented by the law firm Berger Montague and attorneys from the Law Offices of Patrick J. O’Connell LPPC in Austin.
“NASA-OIG will continue to investigate all qui tam relator allegations of fraud, and applaud the relators that brought this matter to the attention of the United States,” said NASA Inspector General Paul Martin. “NASA-OIG appreciates the cooperative efforts of the entire investigative team during this investigation.”