DENVER (CBS4) – Storm chasers in Boulder have paid more than $2.4 million to federal agencies over allegations they engaged in fraud.
The Center for Severe Weather Research is a nonprofit that received grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
CSWR had a “Doppler on Wheels” fleet it used to conduct scientific research popularly known as storm chasing. The United States government accused the nonprofit of asking for federal grants for expenses it did not have.
The government also says CSWR did not have adequate control over large cash transactions and did not document them properly.
“Our office works to protect taxpayers by stopping people who wrongfully obtain federal grant money,” Acting U.S. Attorney Matt Kirsch said in a news release. “We will pursue both organizations and individuals if they improperly obtain federal funds or fail to track those funds with adequate safeguards and controls.”
In the same release, NSF Inspector General Allison Lerner stated: “Each year the National Science Foundation awards millions of dollars in grants to promote promising scientific research. However, the Foundation expects grant recipients to follow federal cost principles. Expenses charged to grants must be allowable, allocable, and reasonable. I commend the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our investigative partners for their work on upholding federal grant rules in this case.”
“This investigation is a prodigious example of how we partner with other law enforcement agencies that are committed to protecting federal grants and ensuring that funds are appropriately spent,” Bob Steinau, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations, NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) said in the release. “I want to applaud the exemplary efforts from Commerce OIG, NSF OIG, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The NASA OIG along with its law enforcement partners, will continue to aggressively investigate those individuals and entities that take advantage of the trust of the American taxpayers.”
“We are committed to ensuring grant funds NOAA awards for important research are handled appropriately and used for their intended purpose,” said
Scott Kieffer, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations for the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Inspector General (OIG) echoed that sentiment in the release saying, “We are committed to ensuring grant funds NOAA awards for important research are handled appropriately and used for their intended purpose. Our office appreciates the investigative partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, NASA OIG and NSF OIG that led to this result, and we will continue to focus our resources on investigations that serve to protect taxpayer money.”
The principals of CSWR, Joshua Wurman and Ling Chan, were also accused of getting payments to which they were not entitled. Most of them related to rental payments for offices in their personal home. Wurman and Chan made a repayment of $203,776 to the United States.
CBS4 was able to reach Wurman by phone on Friday. He could not do an interview on camera but did provide the following statement in response to news of the settlement.
CSWR, a very small research organization, with only a small accounting infrastructure, followed what it believed to be proper billing and accounting processes since its inception, processes that had been repeatedly reviewed and accepted by NSF, and independently audited annually.
After concerns were raised in 2019 by NSF concerning some aspects of CSWR’s accounting, CSWR identified unspent funds that should be returned to the government. CSWR never spent these funds. Rather than accept repayment, NSF referred the case to DOJ for additional investigation. CSWR actively, fully and transparently cooperated with NSF and DOJ. CSWR very willingly paid back to the government what both CSWR and DOJ agreed was owed. After extensive investigation, no intentional wrongdoing was found, and no fines were levied.