Georgia Tech to pay $90,000 settlement after researcher convicted for defrauding university

ATLANTA — The U.S. Department of Justice said the Georgia Institute of Technology will pay $90,000 to resolve allegations that they violated the False Claims Act over a lack of oversight in their research department.

The National Science Foundation provided former Georgia Tech researcher Dr. Eva K. Lee with several grants over the course of her career, studying and modeling viruses and disease.

Lee, who was employed by Georgia Tech since 1999, was accused of mismanaging research funds and falsifying a certificate needed to receive a $40,000 award from NSF, then lying about it to investigators, Channel 2 Action News’ investigative partner the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reported in 2020.

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According to reporting by the AJC, Lee received an annual $40,000 recurring grant from NSF since 2008. In 2014, the funding was paused, due to the need for a certificate of membership for certain professional organizations, which Lee did not have.

Instead, Lee was accused of falsifying this certificate in order to obtain the research funding, which she later admitted to in court and pled guilty to a single count of filing a falsified certificate in 2016, and making false statements to the inspector general’s special agent while being interviewed during the investigation.

Her plea deal prevented her spending time in prison, according to the AJC. Her attorney, Buddy Parker, said her actions had not hurt the university, or the public.

“Dr. Lee stole no monies from NSF. She stole no monies from Georgia Tech. Dr. Lee caused no harm to NSF and Georgia Tech. To the contrary, she brought positive recognition to both,” Parker told the AJC.

Lee later sued to retain access to her research network at Georgia Tech, but the university refused. In a statement released in 2020, Georgia Tech said due to her status at the time, and the charges she admitted to, they did not wish to spend state resources on the efforts to obtain the authentication she needed to continue.

In the announcement of the settlement by the USDOJ, officials said “the settlement resolves allegations that from April 2014 to March 2019, Georgia Tech and GTRC failed to engage in proper oversight of the grant program, which led to Georgia Tech and GTRC’s failure to detect and prevent the submission of false claims to NSF concerning the number of industry members participating in the Center for Health Transformation and the amount of membership fees paid or received on membership certifications for the award.”


Now, to resolve the allegations, Georgia Tech and GTRC agreed to pay a settlement, in addition to funds they’ve already repaid to the NSF.

“Federal grants and awards come with known ‘rules of the road,’” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said. “Organizations that receive federal funds—especially schools and universities that are pillars of our community—must take steps to ensure that their employees are following the rules. This settlement represents our office’s commitment to ensuring accountability for institutions that fail to live up to these obligations.”

Additional reporting by Science quoted a Georgia Tech engineer who testified at the hearing when Lee was sentenced.

Science quoted Georgia Tech biochemical engineer Mark Prausnitz, who described Lee’s actions as “administrative errors that should have been corrected” by the university’s sponsored research office before they triggered an NSF investigation.

The USAO said the settlement is focused specifically on allegations ranging from April 2014 to March 2019, which accused Georgia Tech and GTRC of failing to engage in proper oversight of their grant program, leading to a failure to detect to the submission of false claims to NSF.

The university already repaid $105,000 to NSF, and will now pay an additional $90,000 to resolve the matter with federal authorities.

As previously reported, these are not the only allegations of researchers at Georgia Tech not performing proper oversight over researchers working for the university.

Separate from the allegations against Lee, a multiple-year investigation into three university employees ended with the men indicted, and later convicted and sentenced, for committing and conspiring to commit fraud using funds supplied to Georgia Tech and the Georgia Tech Research Corporation.

Channel 2 Action News covered that story for almost 10 years, after James Maloney, James Acree and James Fraley were first accused of the conspiracy, and fired from Georgia Tech after a university audit found they’d been misusing funds.

According to justice officials, Georgia Tech, and the Georgia Tech Research Corporation, failed to properly oversee their researchers, which is what allowed Maloney, Acree and Fraley to submit false claims to the National Science Foundation and take millions of dollars in misappropriated funds.

As previously reported, the three Georgia Tech researchers falsely claimed that they were using the funds to purchase items on behalf of a classified project for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Instead, the Justice Department said they’d bought ATVs, trailers, flat-screen televisions, iPods and iPads, Apple computers, Kindle E-readers, Nikon and Leica digital cameras, and more.

Additionally, the investigation by Georgia Tech showed that Maloney and Acree had previously been reprimanded for conflict-of-interest policies when it came to the use of facilities and equipment for non-work purposes back in 2007.

Editors’ note: This story previously incorrectly tied the settlement from Georgia Tech to a different case of researchers investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. This story has been updated to reflect the corrected information.

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