Regents to pay $500K to settle FVSU case

acastillo@macon.comJanuary 12, 2010 

The Board of Regents will pay a $500,000 settlement in light of allegations that Fort Valley State University falsely certified compliance with a grant.

According to a news release from G.F. “Pete” Peterman III, acting United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, university administrators signed a certificate of compliance with the terms of a $2.5 million cooperative agreement while not fully adhering to its terms, a violation of the False Claims Act. The National Science Foundation grant, “Strengthening Undergraduate Preparation in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology,” involved funds from June 1, 2001 to April 30, 2007.

“There were no allegations of criminal activity but clearly a lack of control in record keeping,” said Board of Regents spokesman John Millsaps, whose organization worked with the Department of Law and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “We believe that the settlement today is a fair and reasonable conclusion to this matter. We are confident that Fort Valley State will be able to continue a long and mutually beneficial research relationship with its many government partners.”

Part of the settlement requires Fort Valley State, at its own expense, to enter a five-year compliance agreement to show it can fulfill current and future grant stipulations, Peterman said.

The agreement requires the university to undergo an outside audit every year and addresses how Fort Valley State is organized administratively to oversee the grant and its record keeping and reporting methods, said university spokeswoman Vickie Oldham.

“Fort Valley State University acknowledges no wrongdoing and insists that we have not engaged in any wrongdoing as supported by two independent audits,” Oldham said.

Those audits took place in August 2008 and January 2009, according to documents submitted to The Telegraph by Oldham. According to the January 2009 audit, conducted by Carr, Riggs & Ingram L.L.C., the university did not follow requirements on reporting allowable costs, equipment, real property management, reporting, cost sharing and special tests and provisions under the requirements of the National Science Foundation grant.

“Compliance with such requirements is necessary, in our opinion, for Fort Valley State University to comply with the requirements applicable to that program,” according to the document.

Excluding those items, the audit found Fort Valley State in compliance “in all material respects” with the terms of the grant during the period in question.

University President Larry E. Rivers and Executive Vice President Canter Brown could not be reached by phone Monday.

Brown said in a news release that questions were raised by the National Science Foundation Office of Inspector General about the funds in those audits, which were commissioned by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“The university cooperated fully with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Macon and believed it had established the credibility and legality of its program administration,” said Brown in the news release.

The issue began before Rivers became the university’s president in 2006.

“Science research and education thrives at Fort Valley State,” said Rivers in a news release. “Our cooperative relationship with the (National Science Foundation) remains strong, and we do not anticipate any negative effect of this settlement upon present or future research or training on our campus.”

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.

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