Ex-professor spent research grant funds, leaves Drexel the tab | The Triangle

Ex-professor spent research grant funds, leaves Drexel the tab

A former university professor used funds from federal grants to make personal charges for approximately 10 years, an internal audit reveals. (Photograph by Isabelle Mancini for The Triangle.)

Drexel made national headlines this week after an internal audit revealed that a former professor spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants at gentlemen’s clubs and bars around the Philadelphia area, as well as on purchases from iTunes.

Chikaodinaka D. Nwankpa, former University professor and former head of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department, made purchases between July 2007 and April 2017, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Nwankpa racked up nearly $190,000 in improper charges.

“The funds [Nwankpa] used came from eight federal grants related to energy and naval technology research, awarded by the Department of the Navy, Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation,” according to a recent article published by the Philadelphia Business Journal.

The grants were intended for use on research and “advancements into energy and naval technology for public benefit,” USA Today wrote in an article Oct. 8.

USA Today reported that the federal investigation was initiated in 2017 after Drexel reported suspicious charges. Nwankpa, who worked at Drexel until the time of the investigation, has since resigned.

Nwankpa was also banned from federal contracting — or receiving funding from the Federal Government for research and development projects — for six months, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Nwankpa repaid over $53,000 to Drexel. And while Nwankpa did pay up a small portion, Drexel is still stuck with a hefty bill.

“Drexel, in Philadelphia, has agreed to pay the amount to resolve potential false claims liability, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” CNN published in an article Oct. 8.

“Drexel takes allegations of unethical or unlawful business conduct on the part of any members of the university community very seriously and remains committed to being in full compliance with all billing regulations and requirements,” Drexel officials told CNN.

Drexel has developed and implemented plans to more closely monitor grant funds since they discovered Nwankpa’s fraudulent charges in 2017. These plans are direct and include educating Drexel faculty members on recognizing and reporting fraud.

“The university developed new internal and external auditing controls to prevent any future misuse of grant funds,” the Philadelphia Business Journal wrote Oct. 8. “[This included] training faculty and staff to recognize red financial flags and showing them how to report them.”

U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain commended Drexel for voluntarily reporting the fraudulent charges but was disappointed that Nwankpa’s actions went unseen for ten years.

Nwankpa had worked for Drexel University since 1990.