AP’s Wheeling Jesuit and Davitt McAteer story by Vicki Smith in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One of the world’s foremost experts on mine safety — from gold mines in Chile to the coal mines of southern West Virginia — stands accused by a NASA fraud investigator of conspiring with the Catholic college where he now works to use millions of federal grant dollars for personal gain and the school’s benefit.
It’s in a sworn affidavit by a NASA Inspector General agent “used to obtain search warrants.”
The sworn affidavit by an agent who works out of the Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Md., said those expenses range from McAteer’s salary — which surged from $130,300 in 2006 to $230,659 by 2008 — to cellphones, computers, technical support and salaries for other staff, including a secretary in McAteer’s Shepherdstown [WV] private law office.
McAteer’s reports on mine disasters at the governor’s request have been scrutinized.
The reports he authored are now among the evidence that federal investigators are studying. Among the search warrant requests were “any and all documents” relating to work done on those three reports, including financial documents, travel expense, time cards and interview notes.
There were five NASA grants, regarding which:
[T]he agent found the duties and salaries of individuals “did not, in any way, benefit the substantive work being done on the federal award projects.”
“The motive for (McAteer’s) actions is evidenced by the substantial sum of money (Wheeling Jesuit) improperly received,” the agent concluded.
Wheeling Jesuit in jeopardy:
The university may have been complicit in five possible federal crimes: theft of federal funds; major fraud; conspiracy; false claims; and wire fraud, the document said.
There were warnings:
At least twice, the affidavit said, witnesses interviewed for the investigation warned both McAteer and the school that they were breaking the law. A consulting firm hired in 2008 also made similar warnings, the document said.
“We will slowly work on making this right, but we can’t afford to do it at this time,” McAteer is said to have told top university officials in response to the consulting firm’s conclusion, according to the affidavit.
The officials concurred:
Documents the agent obtained indicate the school’s board of directors deliberately circumvented federal spending rules “for the purpose of sustaining . . . its general, non-federal program educational areas.”
The money flowed:
Between fiscal years 2000 and 2009, NASA gave Wheeling Jesuit more than $116 million, more than $65 million of that after McAteer took over the school’s Sponsored Programs Office in 2005.
A whistle-blower claimed she suffered retaliation:
A finance manager in that office told the investigator that McAteer created the Combined Cost Management Service Center when he took over. Merging the billing of the two centers allowed him “to control and consolidate all the expenses, regardless of whether such expenses were related to the federal awards.”
This points to Catherine Smith, who sued the university in January 2010 saying she lost her job “after questioning [as finance manager for the school’s sponsored programs] the way the school billed administrative expenses for government grants,” as reported by the Charleston State-Journal in a story posted Jan. 14, 2010 and reposted as “updated” Feb. 27, 2012.