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Thursday, October 06, 2022

UF repays $192K for misused grants

UF has repaid about $192,000 to the National Institutes for Health following two 2010 audits that found grant money awarded to the College of Health and Human Performance had been used inappropriately.

The total repayment of $192,148 was for inappropriate food charges, unsupported research participant stipend payments, suspected falsified payroll hours, home Internet charges and courier services, according to a report by UF's Office of Audit and Compliance Review.

Paperwork involved in the repayment process was finalized this week, and the payment was sent to NIH on Wednesday, UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said.

NIH awarded $502,088 to the College of Health and Human Performance's Addictive and Health Behaviors Research Institute in 2008 for the "Selective Prevention Program for High School Seniors" research project headed by Chudley Werch.

Steve Dorman, dean of the College of Health and Human Performance, first alerted NIH that there was some suspicious activity at the institute that required investigation.

"We decided to look a little closer at some unusual expenses," he wrote in an email Thursday. "Our suspicions were confirmed."

"This was our college trying to be proactive and do the right thing," he wrote. "We identified a problem and we took action."

A Feb. 24, 2010, memo from Brian Mikell, chief audit executive at UF's Office of Audit and Compliance Review, to Thomas Hartshorne, supervisory auditor for the Division of Program Integrity at NIH, stated NIH first contacted the Office of Audit and Compliance Review in August 2008 regarding allegations of inappropriate use of NIH grant funds at the Addictive and Health Behaviors Research Institute in Jacksonville. NIH formally requested a review by OACR in September 2009. NIH alleged Werch's student interns had been "falsifying work records and charging fictitious labor hours to the grant," and Werch used grant money to provide gas and grocery cards and food to students and employees, according to audit documents.

An internal review by OACR revealed there was no merit to the first claim, but that Werch did indeed use about $33,000 of grant money to feed students and employees over the course of the study. OACR determined the College of Health and Human Performance, the Addictive and Health Behaviors Research Institute and UF's Division of Sponsored Research must pay back $33,604 to NIH.

An Aug. 13, 2010, memo from Mikell to Steve Dorman, dean of the College of Health and Human Performance, stated that during the first audit, OACR found more questionable activity at the institute and performed a subsequent follow-up investigation. Auditors found the institute improperly destroyed parental consent forms and receipts for stipend payments to research participants before they were scheduled to be destroyed. There were also discrepancies with employee payroll records.

To prevent these types of issues in the future, Dorman wrote in an email that all overtime requests must now be approved by the dean. He has asked the finance and accounting department to notify the office when an employee requests petty cash.

UPD turned over the audit and investigation to the State Attorney in Jacksonville, Sikes said. They have decided not to prosecute.

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