WHEELING - An independent examination of how costs were allocated in Wheeling Jesuit University's technology centers - at the heart of a federal investigation - concluded in 2008 that WJU actions were "permissible under federal regulations," the university announced Wednesday.
At the same time, university President Rick Beyer issued a letter to the Wheeling Jesuit community, assuring those in it that WJU is cooperating with federal authorities and remains committed to providing education opportunities in the Jesuit tradition.
Court records on file at the U.S. District Court in Wheeling indicate federal investigators are focusing their attention on J. Davitt McAteer, who is chief executive officer of the university's Center for Educational Technologies and the National Technology Transfer Center. A NASA investigator has alleged the university fraudulently billed expenses to federal grant programs or cooperative agreements between WJU and the federal government, from 2005 through 2011. The NASA official's sworn statement cited spending that included cellular phones, computers, technical support and salaries, including a secretary in McAteer's private law office in Shepherdstown, W.Va. McAteer's own salary, which increased from $130,300 in 2006 to $230,659 in 2008, was cited.
The 2008 report, commissioned by the university's Audit Committee, "found no improprieties," WJU stated in a Wednesday press release.
The Board of Trustees of WJU on Wednesday authorized release of a 2008 report prepared by an independent, special counsel addressing the cost-allocation method used by the university's technology centers to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia. That report determined the university's cost-allocation method to be permissible under federal regulations and found no improprieties, according to information released by the school.
"The University has always been, and always will be, completely transparent with regards to its cost-allocation methods of its technology centers," said university President Rick Beyer, who took the helm in January 2011. "Once the affidavit was reviewed, the Board of Trustees decided to release a report of an independent investigation regarding this issue, which was originally addressed by the university in 2008."
"Wheeling Jesuit University is committed to openness in all dealings regarding the University," Beyer said. "We have enlisted the services of federal grant experts and a former United States attorney to aid us in full cooperation with this investigation."
Beyer further addressed the issue with members of the Jesuit community.
"Until the affidavit became available, we could only speculate as to the reason for the investigation," Beyer said. "From the affidavit, we understand the areas under investigation are specific to our sponsored programs and include the method the university previously used to allocate salary costs to federal grants. ...
"At Wheeling Jesuit University, we pride ourselves on our educational excellence, building on a foundation of 450 years in the Jesuit tradition," he continued. "We are committed to our mission of educating men and women for life leadership and service to others. Daily, our faculty and staff seek to foster competence, creativity and innovation throughout and beyond the campus community."
In addition to his role at Wheeling Jesuit, McAteer is an internationally known expert on mine safety and a former head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. He was hand-picked by West Virginia's former governor, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, to oversee thorough, independent investigations of three coal mine disasters since 2006. The Sago Mine explosion trapped and killed 12 men in January 2006, while the Alma No. 1 mine fire weeks later killed two more. McAteer also issued the first report on the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion, which killed 29.
The reports he authored are now among the evidence that federal investigators are studying. Among the search warrant requests were "any and all documents" relating to work done on those three reports, including financial documents, travel expenses, time cards and interview notes.