Two UH professors charged with wire fraud, making false statements

April 28, 2014 11:49:57 AM PDT
Two University of Houston professors are facing charges of making false statements and wire fraud in connection to getting federal funds for research grants, according to US Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

Abdelhak Bensaoula, Ph.D., 57, and David Starikov, Ph.D., 58, turned themselves in Monday morning and are expected to appear in federal court. The 29-count indictment, returned late last week, alleges one count of conspiracy, seven counts of making false statements and 21 counts of wire fraud.

Both Bensaoula and Starikov are professors in the University of Houston physics department. According to Magidson's office, the two started a small business known as Integrated Micro Sensors, Inc., which applied and received grants from NASA, the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and US Air Force.

The indictment alleges, among other things, that Bensaoula and Starikov made false statements on their applications and in filing electronic claims for payment after they were awarded grants or contracts. They are also accused of using fraudulent letters of support and made false representations about facilities, equipment and materials.

The defendants allegedly attempted to hide their scheme from detection from the government and university officials.

If convicted of the conspiracy, both face up to a five-year prison term as well as another five years for each conviction of making false statements. For the wire fraud charges, the defendants face up to 20 years for each conviction. All charges also carry as possible punishment a $250,000 fine.

The University of Houston released the following statement regarding the indictments.

"The University of Houston is committed to maintaining a research environment that promotes attention to the highest ethical standards for all sponsored and non-sponsored research.

The University is aware of the allegations in the indictment against two professors and has cooperated fully with the U.S. Attorney's Office throughout this investigation, and will continue to do so.

We have been assured by the U.S. Attorney's Office that the University is not the target of the investigation and that "the defendants attempted to hide their scheme from detection by the government and University officials." If the allegations are proven to be true, the University also has suffered fraud and has been victimized in this incident.

As it is an ongoing federal investigation, the University will have no further comment."

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