HOUSTON (CN) - Two University of Houston physics professors could face effective terms of up to life in prison if convicted of making false statements to obtain federal research grants, federal prosecutors said.
Abdelhak Bensaoula, 57, and David Starikov, 58, both Ph.D.s, both of Houston, surrendered to federal agents Monday morning, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement.
The professors co-founded Integrated Micro Sensors Inc., a small business that successfully applied for grants or contracts from the Air Force, NASA, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, according to a 29-count indictment returned Thursday.
Integrated Micro Sensors is a self-described research and development firm focused on renewable energy generation and energy storage.
The indictment accuses Bensaoula and Starikov of making false statements in grant applications and in claims for payment after they were awarded grants.
"On behalf of IMS, they both allegedly used false and fraudulent letters of support and made false representations with regards to facilities, equipment and materials," prosecutors said in the statement.
"Additionally, the indictment alleges the defendants stated in proposals that IMS would pay a required subcontract fee to the University of Houston, which it failed to pay on four of five contracts. Bensaoula and Starikov, through IMS, also allegedly applied for and received at least 25 SBIR grants between 2000 and 2013. From 2008 through 2013, the defendants and IMS allegedly received at least five SBIR contracts for approximately $1.3 million."
The Small Business Innovation Research program, SBIR, administers federal grants.
Both professors were charged with conspiracy, seven counts of making false statements and 21 counts of wire fraud.
If convicted, they could effectively face life in prison on the wire fraud charges alone, as each one carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.
They both also face $250,000 fines on each of the charges.
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