You are here

Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Massachusetts

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Northeastern University to Pay $2.7 Million for Failing to Account for Federal Research Funds

 BOSTON – The United States reached a settlement today with Northeastern University resolving allegations that, over a period of nine years, Northeastern failed to properly account for federal research funds that it received from the National Science Foundation (NSF).  NSF awarded the funds to support high-energy particle physics research under the direction of Stephen Reucroft, formerly a Northeastern physics professor, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland.

According to the settlement agreement, Northeastern University agreed to pay $2.7 million and to submit to a five-year compliance agreement to ensure that proper oversight and safeguards are in place for future research awards.

“Universities that receive federal research funds have a duty to ensure that their researchers use those funds only for their intended purposes,” said United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.  “In this matter, Northeastern failed to adequately safeguard National Science Foundation grant money that had been awarded for the sole purpose of supporting important scientific research.”

Allison Lerner, Inspector General of the National Science Foundation, said, “Recipients of government funds to support scientific research have both a financial responsibility and a public trust responsibility.  In this case, Northeastern failed to protect the government’s interest and lacked adequate control over a researcher’s ability to spend millions of taxpayer dollars.  I commend the U.S. Attorney’s Office for this settlement agreement, which will recover $2.7 million for the U.S. Treasury.”

The federal government’s grant regulations require universities to exercise control and oversight over the NSF award funds they receive.  Among other things, a recipient of NSF award funds must have documentation of salary payments, purchases of equipment, travel, expenses, and all other items charged to the awards.  The regulations limit cash advances to the recipient’s immediate cash needs.  Additionally, the regulations require universities to notify NSF of any significant problems relating to financial management of the awards.

The United States alleged that, from 2001 to 2010, Northeastern repeatedly violated these requirements by approving and disbursing numerous advances and other payments of NSF award funds to accounts that Professor Reucroft controlled at CERN without proper justification or requisite verification.  Northeastern also failed, for more than two years, to notify NSF when it discovered significant problems with the accounting for award funds paid and knew that at least some of the funds were used to pay Professor Reucroft’s personal expenses.

U.S. Attorney Ortiz and Inspector General Lerner, made the announcement today.  This matter was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anita Johnson of Ortiz’s Civil Division.

Updated February 4, 2016