WASHINGTON (TIP): An Indian- American professor has been convicted by a federal grand jury of defrauding the US government and students of $700,000 in research grants. Manoj Jha, a full-time professor at the Morgan State University in Baltimore, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each of four counts of wire fraud, and for one count each of mail fraud and falsification of records; and 10 years in prison for theft of government property.
The sentencing is scheduled for July 11. NSF, a US government agency, supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. Jha, 46, has been found guilty of fraudulently obtaining $200,000 in grant funds from NSF’s Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programme to fund a highway project, and attempting to obtain another $500,000 via the same project.
Federal prosecutors alleged Jha converted the funds to his personal use; Jha made payments on his mortgage and personal credit card and authorised approximately $11,000 in salary payments to his wife, who performed no NSF-related work. “This conviction of guilt on seven counts, including obstruction of justice and theft of government property, sends a strong signal to anyone who would seek to defraud this programme and divert taxpayer dollars intended for scientific research to personal use.
“I commend the US Attorney’s office for its strong support in this case,” said Allison Lerner, NSF Inspector General. According to Justice Department, Jha incorporated Amar Transportation Research and Consulting Inc (ATRC), and was its president and only director. Trial evidence showed that Jha submitted funding proposals on behalf of ATRC to the STTR. The stated purpose of Jha’s proposed project was to enhance current models used by highway planners to optimise horizontal and vertical highway routes, and ultimately, to commercialise the result.
In his application for STTR funding, Jha listed himself as the principal investigator and the University of Maryland as the CRI. Under the STTR, the primary employment of the principal investigator must be with the small business at the time of the award; and at least 40 per cent of the research must be performed by the small business and 30 pc by a collaborating research institution, as measured by the budget.
Jha also misrepresented the involvement of the University of Maryland in conducting research on the project and further misrepresented that he had obtained a USD100,000 investment from a third party in order to qualify for matching funds from NSF, the Justice Department said.