An Indian-American professor at Morgan State University has been indicted by a federal grand jury in an alleged scheme to defraud the National Science Foundation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding.
Manoj Kumar Jha, 45, who oversees the university's transportation engineering graduate programme, allegedly fabricated an elaborate research proposal on behalf of a private company he founded and then applied for funding through the NSF's Small Business Technology Transfer programme.
"The stated purpose of Jha's proposed project was to enhance current models used by highway planners to optimize horizontal and vertical highway routes, and ultimately, to commercialise the result," according to prosecutors cited by the Baltimore Sun.
Jha received $200,000 to conduct the research but instead allegedly made personal mortgage and credit card payments, paid his wife $11,000 for work she didn't do and wrote himself a $6,000 check, prosecutors said.
Jha, who is also the founding director of Morgan State's Centre of Advanced Transportation and Infrastructure Engineering Research, also applied for $500,000 more for the project but did not receive it, prosecutors said.
The alleged fraud occurred between January 2008 and July 2009, and involved Jha's lying on grant applications about his intention to take leave from Morgan State to work on the proposed project and about the University of Maryland's being a collaborating research institution.
He also allegedly lied about another Morgan State professor's serving as a scientific adviser on the project and about receiving $100,000 in matching funds from a third party, a requirement of NSF grants, prosecutors said.
According to the university's website, Jha was born in a village in India in 1967. After obtaining a bachelor's degree in engineering, he immigrated to the United States in 1991. He then earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Old Dominion University in 1993, became a registered professional engineer in Maryland in 1997 and earned a doctorate in civil engineering in 2000 from the University of Maryland.
He worked for seven years at the Maryland State Highway Administration, where he served as the "Year 2000 Risk Manager," according to his biography on the Morgan State website.
Jha faces a maximum 20 years in prison for each of five wire fraud counts, a mail fraud count and a falsification of records, prosecutors said.