A University of South Carolina research professor, who holds one of USC's endowed chairs, is accused of misusing federal grant money at his previous job.
Dr. Charles Bennett is now the chair of the Center for Medication Safety at the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy. He came here from Northwestern University, and the U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois says it was there that Bennett misused federal grant money.
According to the U.S. Attorney's office, Bennett "allegedly billed those federal grants for family trips, meals and hotels for himself and friends, and ‘consulting fees' for unqualified friends and family members, including his brother and cousin."
Northwestern agreed to pay the U.S. $2.93 million to settle the claims of cancer research grant fraud. The allegations were made in a civil lawsuit filed in 2009 by a former employee at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Center for Cancer in Chicago, Illinois. That lawsuit had been sealed, but was unsealed this week when Northwestern agreed to settle the claims against it.
Bennett could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, James Becker of Philadelphia, was out of the office in meetings all day and did not return a phone call or email for comment.
USC spokesman Wes Hickman said the university couldn't comment on the specific allegations against Bennett since they don't involve USC, but said, "We take the stewardship of external grant funds and compliance with all government rules very seriously. We have appropriate oversight in place, but in light of yesterday's release we will conduct a review of the faculty member's research grant accounts to ensure all is in order here."
He says USC has several layers of oversight to make sure all grant money is spent properly.
First, each grant is set up in a unique restricted account, so the only funds in that account are from the grant and the only charges made to it are approved.
Second, since USC is a state entity, grant spending and administration fall under the rules and regulations of the state procurement code. If there's a difference between a federal rule or regulation and a state one, USC follows whichever one is most restrictive.
Third, each expenditure has to be approved at several levels.
And finally, the spending is subject to regular audits.
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