A Morgan State University professor was convicted Tuesday in connection with a scheme to defraud the National Science Foundation and his students.
Manoj Kumar Jha, 46, of Severn faces 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 a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for theft of government property, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. He is scheduled to be sentenced in July.
Jha, who was director of the university's Center for Advanced Transportation and Infrastructure Engineering Research, was accused of fraudulently obtaining $200,000 in grant funds from the NSF's Small Business Technology Transfer program in 2008 and 2009, and attempting to obtain another $500,000 through the same program. He used the money for personal expenses, prosecutors said, including to pay his mortgage and personal credit card, and to pay his wife about $11,000 though she did no work for the NSF.
To cover his tracks amid a routine review of federal spending in 2011, prosecutors said Jha falsified expenditure reports and time sheets. Jha pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In addition, Jha was responsible for overseeing another $100,000 in U.S. Department of Defense grants that was to be distributed to students working on contracts associated with the money. Jha falsely told students that they needed to return a portion of the stipends to him, and prosecutors said some students returned about $36,000 in stipend funds to him, which he deposited in his personal bank account.
Jha is the second Morgan State University employee to face charges in the last two years. In February, Robert Lee Terrell, director of the university's Restricted Funds Accounting office, which oversees grants and contracts, was accused of stealing $66,000 in state funds. Terrell is scheduled to be arraigned later this month.
Morgan State said in a statement that it has "stepped up its efforts to identify the potential for this kind of activity in the future" and is reviewing its next steps.
"The University cooperated fully with the federal investigation into this matter and largely because of the investigatory efforts of NSF we believe we are now in a better position to enhance our systems to detect this type of behavior in the future," the statement said.