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Top UI official demoted after letter scheme revealed


A top University of Idaho official has been demoted after being connected to a letter critical of a school researcher.

A NASA scientist signed the letter, which suggests the researcher might try to sabotage projects, but the university official is accused of drafting it.

Gary Maki was removed as director of the university’s Center for Advanced Microelectronics and Biomolecular Research on Friday. According to a press release from the university, Maki will retain his $183,000 salary and remain a part of the center’s staff. He will also remain at the school as a professor of computer and electrical engineering.

Tania Thompson, a university spokeswoman, told the Lewiston Tribune that the press release would be the school’s only statement about the demotion.

Maki did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press on Saturday. University President Tim White said a search is on for Maki’s replacement, and that an interim team will handle the director’s responsibilities until one is found.

Kenneth Hass, the target of the letter sent in July 2006 carrying the signature of Pen-Shu Yeh, a NASA program coordinator, obtained the letter and an e-mail through Idaho’s open records laws and gave it to a newspaper. White has confirmed he had seen the letter.

In 2005, Hass provided information to a UI auditor that got Maki in trouble. The audit has led to an investigation by the state attorney general into possible wrongdoing at the research center involving possible theft, computer crimes, acceptance of rewards by state employees, and criminal nepotism.

The letter purportedly from NASA questions whether Hass had provided sensitive information to “unauthorized sources,” including “foreign agents.” Hass has said the letter hinted the center could lose money it receives from NASA.

The letter also says Hass proposed a computer chip design that might have failed in orbit, that he improperly monitored sensitive information on Maki’s computer, and that he wrote a program to track everything Maki did. Hass has denied those allegations.

Hass, who has continued at his job at the Center for Advanced Microelectronics and Biomolecular Research, and his wife, Martha, who used to work for UI, have filed a defamation lawsuit against the university.

They say they faced retaliation from their superiors and the administration and accuse officials of defaming them after they raised concerns in 2005 with the UI auditor. The school denies the allegations.

Information from: Lewiston Tribune,

– Associated Press

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