WHEELING - J. Davitt McAteer will retire from his post at Wheeling Jesuit University when his contract expires June 30, but college officials are mum on whether his decision is related to a federal investigation of McAteer and the school.
McAteer has been accused by a NASA fraud investigator of conspiring with the university to use millions of federal grant dollars for personal gain and the school's benefit.
Wheeling Jesuit President Rick Beyer sent an email to alumni Monday, informing them McAteer is leaving in June. College spokeswoman Michelle Rejonis confirmed McAteer's plans and said Wheeling Jesuit is seeking new leadership for the programs McAteer oversees. Rejonis said she could not comment on whether the retirement is related to the federal probe.
J. Davitt McAteer describes the investigation of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 men at the Massey Energy operation in 2010.
"We are in the process of transitioning to new leadership for the programs he heads up," Rejonis said.
McAteer is a vice president at the college and chief executive officer of the university's Center for Educational Technologies and the National Technology Transfer Center. He heads up the Mining and Industrial Safety Technology and Training Innovation, or MISTTI program, as well as HEALTHeWV, a program that deals with electronic patient records and links 41 free rural health clinics together in a single computerized network.
While the search for new project managers is under way, Beyer will administer HEALTHeWV, and James Fleming will oversee MISTTI.
"With the importance of those programs to the state ... we want continue to move forward with these programs as they currently are," Rejonis said.
McAteer took over the school's Sponsored Programs Office in 2005. His attorney, Steve Jory of Elkins, said the retirement has nothing to do with the investigation.
"The timing of this departure has been the subject of ongoing discussions for more than 18 months," he said. Jory did not comment further.
In addition to his work at the transfer center, McAteer also is director of the Erma Ora Byrd Center for Education Technologies, which is named for the wife of the late longtime Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
The technology transfer center does work on mine safety and health, missile defense, health technology and small business partnerships. The Center for Educational Technologies has housed the NASA-sponsored "Classroom of the Future" program since 1990. The space agency began construction of the center in 1993 and later helped build the educational technologies center.
Between fiscal years 2000 and 2009, NASA gave Wheeling Jesuit more than $116 million, more than $65 million of that after McAteer took over the school's Sponsored Programs Office.
In addition to his work for the college, McAteer is a lawyer and is considered an international expert on mine safety. He is a former director of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration under President Clinton.
Records on file with the U.S. District Court in Wheeling show investigators believe McAteer and the school fraudulently billed expenses to federal grant programs or cooperative agreements from 2005 through 2011. The allegations are contained in an affidavit that an agent in the NASA Office of Inspector General used to obtain search warrants.
The sworn affidavit by an agent who works at NASA's Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Md., said those expenses range from McAteer's salary - which surged from $130,300 in 2006 to $230,659 by 2008 - to cell phones, computers, technical support and salaries for other staff, including a secretary in McAteer's Shepherdstown private law office.
The affidavit suggests possible grounds for five federal crimes - theft of federal funds, major fraud, conspiracy, false claims and wire fraud.
Beyer previously said an independent 2008 investigation of the school's billing practices under federal grants and programs found no violations of laws or regulations.