by Brian Mahany
According to AP wire reports, David McAteer, former director of the United States Mine Safety and Health Administration and West Virginia’s Wheeling Jesuit University have been accused of bilking taxpayers. The accusations were set forth in an affidavit released by an agent from NASA’s Inspector General. A federal grand jury is considering possible criminal charges.
McAteer is well known world wide as an expert on Mine Safety. He has frequently been tapped by former West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to oversee several mining disasters in that state. He is also a popular media commentator on mining disasters around the world. Currently he works for Wheeling Jesuit.
Between 2000 and 2009, NASA gave the university approximately $116 million, much of that for programs involving McAteer. A whistleblower came forward and told university officials that McAteer’s plan to charge 75% of his salary was illegal. In a confidential letter to the University’s president, the employee said that McAteer’s actions were neither ethical nor legal.
Instead of acting on the concerns, McAteer was apparently told of the concerns and denied the accusations. Shortly thereafter, the school’s president was fired and McAteer became interim president.
Investigators believe that Wheeling Jesuit’s handling of federal funds was “arbitrary and fraudulent.” The affidavit says that, “Documents obtained thus far also evidence knowledge and intent by the Wheeling Jesuit University Board of Directors to circumvent the [law] and improperly divert Federal Government funds for the purposes of sustaining Wheeling Jesuit University in its general, non-federal program educational areas.”
How much of the money was improperly spent remains unclear. Investigators say that McAteer’s salary at the university almost doubled from $130,000 to $231,000 in just 2 years, much of that paid for by taxpayer money. The affidavit also claims that federal tax dollars paid for McAteer’s secretary at his private law office.
Whistleblowers are essential to keep businesses and institutions honest. Federal agencies simply can’t audit every grant. Many fraud and rip-offs have been uncovered because an honest employee elected to come forward and get involved.
Often the organization at the center of the case is a big bank, mortgage lender, defense contractor or medical practice. This case points out that even nonprofits and religious organizations can harbor fraudsters.
This case also points out another problem – many institutions don’t treat whistleblower complaints seriously or simply want to ignore the truth. Luckily, state and federal laws provide protections to whistleblowers that face retaliation. It is unclear what if anything happened to the whistleblower in this case. Because grand jury proceedings are secret, it could be some time before we learn more facts.
One thing is clear, however. In just a few short months after the whistleblower confidentially shared his concerns with the university president, the president was fired and McAteer was interim president.
The feds are critical of not just McAteer but the university’s board as well. Perhaps McAteer and his cronies were just too arrogant and thought they could do whatever they wanted or perhaps the school simply became too accustomed to the millions they were receiving in federal monies. Either way, the school and McAteer certainly appear to be in deep trouble now.
The victims in this case are the students who came to Wheeling Jesuit seeking a good education and a valuable degree. If the allegations in this case are true, McAteer and the board’s actions have tarnished the school’s image, jeopardized the school’s future and devalued the school’s degree programs. Taxpayers whose hard earned monies were earmarked for missile defense and mine safety programs will have lost too.
Federal law allows whistleblowers to receive up to 30% of the money recovered from defendants. The Wheeling Jesuit case may be a bit problematic because the government generally does not obtain large amount of restitution from nonprofits. Taking money from a university, for instance, may simply result in students paying higher tuition or force the school to go under.
If you have non-public information about misuse of federal grants or engaging in illegal activity that hurts taxpayers, give us a call. We can help put a stop to the fraud, protect you and help you collect a sizable award in many cases.
For more information, contact attorney Anthony Dietz by email at or attorney Brian Mahany at . For immediate attention, contact attorney Brian by telephone at (414) 704-6731 (direct). All inquiries are protected by the attorney client privilege and kept in complete confidence.
Mahany & Ertl – America’s Fraud Lawyers. We proudly give a voice to whistleblowers throughout the United States. Our offices are in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit, Michigan; Portland, Maine & Minneapolis, Minnesota. Services available in many jurisdictions.