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  1. #1
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    Feb 2010
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    Connecticut
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    Default Lover Traveling with University Professor at Public Expense

    My question involves criminal law for the state of: Connecticut

    A university professor brings a non-scientist lover to scientific conferences in exotic locations. Hotel rooms are shared, meals are provided, cars are rented and airfare is purchased (mostly) with award miles generated by the professor's previous official trips. After the conferences, accommodations, meals, car rentals and transportation are reimbursed from a university account which draws from federal research grant funds.

    Does the professor have any criminal liability for these actions or is this simply a benefit that is bestowed upon those in academia?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Lover Traveling with University Professor at Public Expense

    The hotel room and car rental are a non-issue. Those expenses would have been incurred anyway, even with a single professor attending. That there was another body in the car and in the room that were already going to be paid for anyway won't bother anyone - even the funding agency.

    Without seeing the exact wording of the specific grant in question, no one can answer specific concerns. However with that said, most federal grants work along guidelines that sets amounts either in aggregate or in specifics for meals, or both - (just for example: $6 breakfast, $9 lunch, $15 dinner is pretty standard, up to a total amount of $1,500 for the grant period). So long as expenses are within those limits, no one is going to ask if some of the money paid for food that someone else ate. Ethically, yes, maybe even legally yes, it violates the spirit of, if not the legalities of, the grant contract. However, realistically, if the expenses stay within the limits as outlined, the probability that anyone will try to prove (or CARE enough to go to the expense and time of trying to prove) how much of what meals she ate is about zero.

    Unless grant monies were used to purchase airfare, again it'll be a non-issue. Frequent flier miles and similar incentive programs aren't part of the budget, so their use generally isn't even considered. If grant money was used to pay for two tickets, and only one person attended on behalf of the agency, that's up to the person signing off on the expenses to catch. If they pass it through, the feds are unlikely to question it (although it is possible). If it IS questioned, it'll be the expense approver who gets in hot water as the custodian of the monies in question. People frequently aren't sure of what they'll get reimbursed for or not, so they submit everything under the sun, but ultimately, it's the person who APPROVES the expenses who bears responsibility to the agency and to the federal funding program. Unless there is some proof that the person submitting the expenses is in collusion with the person who approves the payment and/or reimbursement, with the intent to defraud, criminal charges aren't going to happen. At worst, the agency would have to reimburse the feds for anything that can't be substantiated.

    And finally, unless you're the person auditing or approving the check that does the reimbursement, you can't assume WHAT he's being reimbursed FOR. It's common, for example, for spouses (or lovers, hookers, whatever) to travel together, eat together, etc. When the expenses are submitted on a $50 dinner tab, the grant will limit the amount of reimbursement to (for example) the $15 limit for dinner. So it doesn't really matter WHAT gets submitted - there are very definite guidelines and limits on what actually gets PAID.

  3. #3
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    Feb 2010
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    Connecticut
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    Default Re: Lover Traveling with University Professor at Public Expense

    Thank you for your comprehensive answer. I was expecting much less; therefore, I was succinct and glossed over some (probably critical) details.

    It seems a bit counterintuitive that award miles that were generated from research grant funds could be used for anything other than official travel to future grant-related conferences but nevermind... that is an issue for the compliance auditors.

    Yes, I CAN assume what is being reimbursed for because it was discussed. In one case, the professor et al flew to an island, rented a car and registered at the conference. The next day, the couple flew to another island - their actual destination. The rental car was left parked at the airport for several days, the conference hotel room was left vacant and there was no conference attendance. The statement was made that the rental vehicle was not returned and there was no hotel check out during the unused days specifically to give the impression that said conference was being attended.

    In another instance, a five-day trip was made to a Mediterranean country. The first 3.5 days were devoted exclusively to tourism and romance; scientific meetings occurred during the last 1.5 days. The statement was made that reimbursement would be claimed for the entire trip to "avoid suspicion."

    I grant you, this added information puts things into different perspective. (Again, I was trying to be succinct in my first post.) If I understand the principles correctly, the cover up made the situation go from bad to worse.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Lover Traveling with University Professor at Public Expense

    The frequent flyer miles are STILL a non-issue. That someone pays for the ticket on a card that generates miles versus one that doesn't is a choice. Such miles these days almost ALWAYS are generated for the individual, since changes in security mean that individuals must purchase tickets with their names on them, not just a ticket for XYZ company employee. Frequent flyer miles are NOT a part of a budget (they really CAN'T be) - ergo, they inure to the benefit of the individual (and the individual's credit card that is being used for the convenience of the employer AND the grant funder). Miles belong to INDIVIDUALS. If you're eating at a restaurant, and the meal is paid for by the employer or grantor, and the restaurant gives you a coupon to come back for a free meal - you don't owe the employer or the grantor that amount. You got a coupon. Enjoy it.

    There is NO federal funding program and I've ever seen (and yes, I've actually got a good number of federal grants under my belt for a variety of organization types) where the per diem amount that a grant will pay comes close to the actual costs for a single individual, much less TWO people. If there is reimbursement occurring that is covering ALL food/beverage expenses, I'll guarantee you that the employer is covering some of that expense. The feds just aren't that generous and make MINIMAL amounts available for meal expenses - amounts that are usually set at a level across the board, no matter where the attendee is eating.

    If there is evidence of fraud such that the expenses are being claimed in the course of attending conferences that are not actually being attended, I'd agree with you 100% that it's fraudulent. Again, however, one would need to see the guidelines to determine the requirements of the funding. Must they attend EVERY session of the conference? Show up for one, two, six? Some grants are specific, others are very open ended. For conferences where things like licensure or a certain skill set need to be maintained, those conferences often have a system such as punch cards, certificates, or other mechanism such that only those persons who actually attended any given session are given credit for that session. If your butt isn't in the chair for the lecture, you don't get credit for it. For scientific research symposiums, the standard doesn't apply - they are more of an exchange of ideas, thoughts on directions that research might be taking, etc. - the difference being that such symposiums presume that attendees have their own vested interest in attending for their own benefit, rather than attending because they have to have X number of credits to turn in to a licensing agency. As they have no requirement to submit proof of attendance, yes, such symposiums probably have a high rate of "cheating".

    You can certainly address your concerns to the employer, who initially approves such expenses. But it would behoove you to read a few successfully funded proposals and see their budgets before boiling over. Conferences CAN be fun. People CAN bring people with them. They tend to be held in exotic locations for a REASON - to GET people to attend. Notice how you never see conferences in Hell, Montana? That's because people won't GO THERE. Federal funding will generally pay for rooms and expenses for the term of the conference, plus the day before, and the day after, to accomodate travel. So for a 1.5 day conference, yes, 3.5 days is not only acceptable, and reasonable, but actually EXPECTED.

    In the BIG picture of the issue, this isn't going to be about the expenses. It's just not. Receipts have been submitted and approved. You are barking up a tree where nothing is going to fall. If there is an angle of concern here, it is the non-attendance issue. Go at it from that angle.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Location
    Connecticut
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    Default Re: Lover Traveling with University Professor at Public Expense

    Kudos! I am dazzled by your analysis of the situation and, unless anyone chimes in with a new angle, I believe that this matter is wrapped up. It probably makes no difference but the professor was married and the lover was not a 'she' as you presumed.

    ~What a tangled web we weave...

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Michigan
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    Default Re: Lover Traveling with University Professor at Public Expense

    I did Data Entry at a University.

    I can tell you this, atleast at this major University:

    EVERYTHING is documented.
    - Forms are filled out.
    - Receipts or copies of receipts are submitted.
    - They are quite detailed: Who was there, purpose, what was billed, credit card number, a number for the trip, approval for it, date everything submitted, verification receipts submitted, dates everything entered into computer system, check number/date/amount.....Which are reimburseable amounts, what is not...
    - Everything is audited. Not random audits. EVERYTHING. Even the President of the University.

    - There are limits. XYZ University or Joe Corporation has a limit (say $15.00) for dinner.

    $15.00 for dinner being a reasonable amount.

    Joe Professor wants to take himself and guest for Filet Mignon and bottle of Merlot...he has to pick up the rest of the tab and tip himself. Alcoholic beverages are not part of the $15.00, even if the guy goes into a local bar and orders a burger and a Bud, he has to pay for the Bud.

    In many cases, Joe Professor pays with his own credit card and has to file the paperwork and receipt to get reimbursed.

    Is it fair to say this: Situation: Route Merchandiser. You work for a major cola distributor. You use YOUR vehicle. Your credit to purchase gas. You buy the gas, submit receipt, get paid a month later. Why should you have to give up any perks of your credit card, like a $10 Store Gift Certificate at so many dollars spent?

    See how complicated this can get?

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
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    Connecticut
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    Default Re: Lover Traveling with University Professor at Public Expense

    Quote Quoting PandorasBox
    View Post
    See how complicated this can get?
    Indeed, yes; especially for the professor.

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