Several Tuskegee University employees fired, 3 arrested, in $ 500,000 fraud scheme
TUSKEGEE, Alabama (WRBL) – Tuskegee University reveals that several university employees were fired and three were arrested by state agencies after an internal investigation uncovered an alleged multi-year scheme to defraud Tuskegee of about $ 500,000 by embezzling grants and funds belonging to the university.
In a letter shared with the Tuskegee University community dated September 20, President Dr Charlotte Morris described what was discovered while working with law enforcement.
“In my role as President of Tuskegee University, I am committed to never backing down from difficult conversations or difficult topics and to lead with transparency and accountability. Today I am writing to update you on a multi-year effort to defraud Tuskegee and the important steps the administration and board have taken to ensure this does not happen again in the future, ”a writes Dr Morris.
The letter says that in January 2020, the board learned of financial irregularities involving the payment of grants in some university fund accounts. As soon as the board became aware of this information, we authorized an investigation into the matter, overseen by a special board review committee and ultimately briefed and led by three outside firms with expertise in uncovering wrongdoing. financial. The University also coordinated with law enforcement to determine if any criminal conduct may have taken place.
“While no theft is ever acceptable, we have learned that the fraud scheme altogether involved less than 2% of the grant funds allocated in small increments, which would be an intentional tactic to avoid detection. also that the program had minimal impact on the distribution of the hundreds of millions of dollars Tuskegee received in grants during this period, funding that successfully supported groundbreaking research by faculty and staff at the ‘university in multiple departments,’ said Dr. Morris.
As a result of the investigation, several university employees are no longer employed by Tuskegee due to their involvement in the program or their inability to prevent it. In addition, three former employees were arrested by state law enforcement and charged with theft.
“The actions of these former employees, who took advantage of the University and shattered our community’s confidence in the process, are disturbing and unacceptable. Their actions contradict both our values and our commitment to creating a campus environment based on trust, integrity and honesty, ”said Dr. Morris.
Dr Morris says that the program is no longer active, that no grant payments or funds to the University are currently affected by this program, and that no student financial aid has been involved.
“Although the University was the victim of this complex fraud scheme, our internal investigation also underscored the need for Tuskegee University to take a closer look at the institutional controls and accounting processes that made the University vulnerable. to this breach of trust in the first place. After a thorough review of our policies, practices and procedures led by external experts and based on the recommendations of these experts, we have already taken a number of corrective and corrective actions to protect ourselves against potential future fraudulent activity ” said Dr Morris. .
As part of this effort, Tuskegee University has implemented several changes:
“Modernized our whistleblower protection and investigation policy to include increased protections and launched an anonymous whistleblower hotline, as evidenced by an announcement to all Tuskegee staff on June 15, 2021; Creation of a policy of fraud, waste and abuse that explicitly prohibits this type of behavior; Revised our accounting manual to decentralize approval processes and controls; Strengthening of our accounting system controls and due diligence processes, including with regard to the segregation of duties around the creation, management and invoicing of suppliers; and retained a higher education technology consultancy to help strengthen controls with Ellucian Colleague, the university’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, ”said Dr. Morris. “The measures that have already been put in place are in addition to other policies and procedures that the University is preparing to implement with the continued help of external experts, in particular the phasing out of the manual control request process,” the development of a solid training in ethics at the level of the University, and the development of an anti-nepotism policy, among others. We will continue to share more about the development of these important policies at the appropriate time. “
– Tuskegee University
Tuskegee University will continue to cooperate fully with law enforcement agencies in their ongoing criminal investigation into these matters.
“I want to assure you that nothing is more important to me than creating a safe, welcoming and secure campus environment where all members of our community feel valued and able to contribute to the common good. To achieve this, each of us must feel empowered to speak up if we experience or see something that goes against our values, ”said Dr Morris.