NU agrees to $2.7 million fine over research funds

September 4, 2015
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Northeastern University (NU) has come to an agreement with the federal government to pay a $2.7 million fine over allegations the university failed to properly account for federal research funds that it had received from the National Science Foundation (NSF), according to a press release.

The funds were awarded to support high-energy particle physics research under the direction of Stephen Reucroft, a former NU physics professor, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The federal government’s grant regulations require universities to exercise responsible oversight over the NSF funds they receive. A recipient of the funds must have documentation of salary payments, purchases of equipment, travel expenses and all other items charged to the awards. They also require universities to notify NSF of any significant problems relating to financial management of the awards.

The federal government alleged that from 2001 to 2010 NU repeatedly violated requirements by disbursing numerous advance payments totaling approximately $8.4 million from NSF funds to accounts that Professor Reucroft controlled at CERN without proper verification of need and sufficient oversight. NU also disbursed approximately $96,000 in funds for travel expenses and sundry expenses without required documentation or based on fraudulent documentation submitted by Professor Neucroft, according to the press release. NU failed to notify NSF when it discovered significant problems with the administration and financial aspects of the awards.

“Recipients of government funds to support scientific research have both a financial responsibility and a public trust responsibility,” said Allison Lerner, inspector general of the National Science Foundation, according to the press release. “In this case, Northeastern failed to protect the government’s interest and lacked adequate control over a researcher’s ability to spend millions of taxpayer dollars. I commend the U.S. Attorney’s Office for this settlement agreement, which will recover $2.7 million for the U.S. Treasury.”

According to the settlement agreement, NU agreed to pay $2.7 million and to submit to a five-year compliance agreement to ensure that proper oversight and safeguards are in place for future research awards.

 

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