WIKIMEDIA, NODAR KHERKHEULIDZEIn the agency’s priciest grant fraud settlement ever, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has ordered Northeastern University in Boston to pay back $2.7 million for nearly a decade of mishandling a grant from the agency. The details of the fraud are murky, but at the center of the case is former Northeastern physicist Stephen Reucroft, who headed up the university’s participation at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, from 2001 to 2010. The civil settlement stated that Northeastern paid salaries without proper documentation and covered expenses through the grant based on fraudulent documentation, some of which may have been submitted by Reucroft. The university “approved and disbursed at least 26 advances, totaling approximately $8.4 million in NSF funds, to CERN team accounts without required verification of need and sufficient oversight,” according to the settlement.
“The conduct in question related to accounting and grant oversight,” Northeastern said in a statement quoted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. “The university self-reported the discrepancies to the funding agency, the National Science Foundation, as soon as they were discovered and fully cooperated with the agency’s review.”
Boston’s WCVB 5 reported that the university didn’t notify the NSF of Reucroft’s misappropriation until 2008, two years after it learned of the discrepancies. Reucroft told The Chronicle that he was never contacted about the case since his retirement from Northeastern in 2010. “I am at a loss to understand it,” he said. “I am also a bit surprised that I have not been involved in the process.”
But Reucroft and university officials had clashed prior to his retirement, according to several reports. During his tenure at Northeastern, Reucroft was reprimanded by the university for neglecting his teaching duties. But after a protracted legal battle, he won a 2006 civil case and won about $8,000 in back pay from withheld raises and a withdrawal of the official. Back then, Reucroft blamed professional jealousy over his winning of the $20 million NSF grant and a university teaching award he also won in 1999. “Those two things coming together were just the final straw for one or two people, so they decided to get me,” he told the Boston Business Journal in 2006. “But they didn’t succeed.”