A high-ranking administrator at North Carolina Central University stole thousands of dollars in federal research grant money, possibly to pay off personal items bought with his university credit card, according to a state audit released Tuesday.
State Auditor Les Merritt said the assistant provost, who was not identified in the audit, also hid for three years a romantic relationship with a student, in violation of university policy. The student also received a one-month health research grant from the administrator worth nearly $3,000, even through she never worked at the school. His report also found that a one-year, $18,700 contract for the student was blocked by another university official.
Merritt has forwarded the audit to state and federal prosecutors for a possible criminal prosecution.
“This violation represents a very serious offense and the punishment should reflect this,” the audit said of the hidden relationship. “University management should consider the strongest disciplinary action given the magnitude of the misconduct.”
Officials at N.C. Central didn’t return phone calls Tuesday seeking comment. A prepared statement from the school said the administrator has been relieved of his duties as assistant provost and associate vice chancellor of academic affairs but remains on the university faculty. The school also will make him repay the money.
The school “takes the fiduciary duty entrusted to us by the (University of North Carolina) Board of Governors and the State of North Carolina very seriously. We understand that integrity and transparency are paramount in meeting this important obligation,” the statement said.
Campus police are still investigating and the university said it would review its fiscal controls to reduce fraud.
N.C. Central, a historically Black university in Durham, “has a solid reputation and I hope that the actions of one individual do not taint the positive work they are doing to educate North Carolinians,” Merritt said in a statement.
The review, which began following an allegation reported to the auditor’s waste and fraud hot line, involved money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for minority biomedical research and health disparities grants.
The auditors concluded the administrator improperly authorized $36,041 in graduate assistant contracts or other payments during 2003 and 2004 to several people, including the administrator’s nephew and the nephew’s girlfriend. Checks totaling $15,341 were actually cashed.
Check recipients said the assistant provost asked them to cash the checks, all worth at least $2,000. The investigation said the assistant provost asked recipients to take some of the money for themselves and give the rest to him.
One student said the administrator needed the money so he could make payments on his credit card, according to the review. Merritt’s investigators also found delinquent charges and a notice to assign his university-issued card account to a collection agency.
The report, which included information from an N.C. Central internal review conducted in August, also said that auditors found that documents related to the improper payments contained false information and it appears a financial aid official’s signature had been falsified.
“It appears an attempt was made to bypass the scholarships and financial aid office by false pretense,” the review said.
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