A former GW professor was arrested Tuesday and charged with embezzling at least $600,000 in federal funds from the University.
Federal officials are accusing Nabih Bedewi, who headed GW’s National Crash Analysis Center until June, of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into his private company. He is also suspected of using the money to pay fees for a Florida condominium, make payments on his car and purchase Washington Redskins season tickets.
The National Crash Analysis Center, established in 1992, is a research institute at GW’s Virginia Campus that is financed mainly through Transportation Department grants. Bedewi, an engineering professor who began teaching at GW in 1990, resigned two months after University officials launched an investigation into his financial dealings in April.
Tracy Schario, GW’s director of Media Relations, said the University reported to the Federal Highway Administration in May that Bedewi had a “conflict of interest” in some of his financial dealings.
“We continue to cooperate with federal authorities involved in the investigation, but we can’t comment on specifics while the case is pending,” Schario said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Bedewi was arrested and charged with one count of embezzlement, said Channing Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. A single embezzlement charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison; prosecutors may decide to charge Bedewi with more crimes.
In December 2002, Bedewi engineered a deal that would have paid $2.84 million to the International Transportation Safety Corporation, a company he founded with a family member earlier that year, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.
As the director of a federal institute, Bedewi was not permitted to transfer federal funds to a company he owned, a Transportation Department investigator stated in court documents. Between December 2002 and April 2004, GW paid Bedewi’s company $721,158. The University withheld $66,000 after it found out about Bedewi’s conflict of interest.
Most of the money that went to Bedewi’s company was slated to fund projects and pay employees that did not exist, officials said. A review of the International Transportation Safety Corporation’s books found that federal money – which was awarded to GW to fund crash research – was used to purchase Redskins tickets and make payments on the credit card balances and car leases of Bedewi’s family members.
In addition, $36,150 was paid to Vielee Bedewi, Nabih’s sister-in-law and the wife of Paul Bedewi, a former GW professor who also worked at the Virginia Campus. Paul Bedewi has not been charged with a crime.
Employees at the Virginia Campus said Paul Bedewi no longer works for GW. Paul Bedewi did not return several phone calls from The Hatchet left at his home Wednesday. Robert Trout, a lawyer representing Nabih Bedewi, did not return several messages left at his Connecticut Avenue office.
Bedewi, who was released Tuesday, will return to court on Nov. 29, when Judge Deborah Robinson will hold a preliminary hearing to decide whether there is enough evidence to hold a trial.
It is unclear whether Bedewi’s alleged financial malfeasance will affect GW’s lucrative relationship with the Transportation Department. Since 1995, the federal government has given more than $23 million to the University, according to court documents. The Transportation Department funds 80 percent of the National Crash Analysis Center.
In August, GW halted construction of the Virginia Campus’s Transportation Research Institute so it could investigate the facility’s cost and research objectives. Schario said Bedewi’s actions had little bearing on the decision to stop construction of the federally funded institute, which was scheduled to be the new home of the National Crash Analysis Center.
“The reasons we gave before regarding the construction of campus … are the core reasons why construction has been suspended,” she said. “We continue to work on parts of the cooperative agreement for the NCAC and we are optimistic that we will continue with the cooperative agreement in light of this arrest.”
Nancy Singer, spokeswoman for the Federal Highway Administration, which operates the crash center, said she “couldn’t comment on any future course of action with GW.”
If GW were to be found liable for Bedewi’s actions, they could be “de-barred,” or stripped of future federal transportation funds, said David Barnes, communications director for the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General.
He said, “In general if there was something alleged that the University was involved or he was doing this on behalf of the University, then federal highway might want to suspend them.”
-Ryan Holeywell contributed to this report.