U.S. Justice Department announces settlement with ECU, UNC-CH surrounding grant money allegations
RALEIGH, N.C. (WITN) - The U.S. Justice Department has announced a settlement with East Carolina University and UNC-Chapel Hill surrounding false claims involving grant money.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina said that ECU, UNC-Chapel Hill, and the North Carolina Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service have agreed to pay a total of $842,500 to the U.S. for alleged false claims surrounding AmeriCorps grant funds.
“These AmeriCorps programs were meant to support at-risk and low-income youth academically. Instead, the universities and agency involved here ran them in a way that allowed participants to falsify their timesheets, and robbed North Carolina communities of the assistance they were supposed to receive,” said AmeriCorps Inspector General Deborah Jeffrey in a press release. “We and our partners at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina will vigorously pursue any such frauds.”
The press release from the Justice Department notes that, “the civil claims resolved by settlements here are allegations only, and that there has been no judicial determination or admission of liability. UNC-CH, ECU, and NCCV deny these allegations and cooperated in resolving these claims.”
Investigators said that the three organizations caused false certifications for service hours worked and related violations of grant requirements in connection with grant funds paid from 2014 through 2019.
“The United States specifically contends that UNC-CH and ECU engaged in widespread violations of grant requirements, acted with reckless disregard in causing false claims, failed to maintain proper internal controls, and systematically certified false hours for AmeriCorps Members, including taking mere seconds to electronically approve hours falsely claimed to be worked on holidays and weekends, and excessive hours claimed toward the end of school years. For example, the investigation uncovered certifications of 16-hour days, which were beyond available service site hours that were typically weekdays on school schedules, unless approved by a supervisor,” the press release states.
UNC-Chapel Hill will pay $375,000, ECU will pay $140,000, and NCCV will pay $327,500.
“We deny liability and the allegations made by the Acting U.S. Attorney but settled this matter along with UNC Chapel Hill and the N.C. Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service to avoid litigation, to save costs, and to continue providing AmeriCorps grant services to the citizens of eastern North Carolina,” ECU Director of University Communications Jeannine Hutson said. “Those include mentoring and STEM-related tutoring services in middle and high schools.”
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