Suspected embezzlement led government to freeze crash center funds

Federal officials suspended part of a $14 million grant in June as they investigated a former GW professor who was charged last week with stealing about $600,000, University administrators said Friday.

The funds freeze prompted GW to halt most research at the National Crash Analysis Center, an institute at its Virginia Campus run jointly with the Federal Highway Administration, said Donald Lehman, executive vice president for Academic Affairs. In August, GW halted construction of a $14 million Transportation Research Institute partly because of the investigation.

Nabih Bedewi, a former engineering professor who resigned as the center’s director in June, was arrested Tuesday and charged with transferring federal funds to a private company he owned, an action illegal under federal law. Transportation officials said Bedewi used the money to buy Washington Redskins tickets, pay down credit card balances and hire his brother’s wife for a job she never performed.

In late July, the FHWA lifted part of the suspension so it could access a Virginia Campus library and operate a program with the U.S. Secret Service that University officials declined to identify.

Administrators do not believe Bedewi’s actions will cause GW to lose any more of its lucrative federal contracts and said they hoped the Transportation Department would lift its suspension of the $14 million grant. They noted that GW has just secured a $2 million grant from the Homeland Security Department.

“Anyone who looks at the situation would recognize that what we have here is an unfortunately bad apple that doesn’t reflect on the University but reflects on himself,” said Lydia Thomas, chair of the Board of Trustees’ Academic Affairs Committee.

Transportation officials overseeing the crash center grant could not be reached for comment last week. FHWA spokeswoman Nancy Singer declined to comment on any possible loss of more federal funds because Bedewi’s case is an “ongoing investigation.”

The crash center, which gets 80 percent of its money from the government, has operated on the federal grant for three years, getting about $5 million during that time; the grant is set to expire in three or four years. Since 1995, the University’s Virginia Campus has received $23 million in federal funding to operate the crash center and other institutes and programs, according to U.S. District Court documents.

Since June, GW has used money from the Academic Affairs office and other grants to retain crash center employees and research materials in the event that transportation officials decide to lift the suspension.

“It’s important to us that we get the funding reinstated,” Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz said.

The University is cooperating with FHWA officials in auditing the crash center’s accounts, said Richard Sawaya, vice president for Government, International and Corporate Affairs. He emphasized that the University was the first institution to launch an investigation into Bedewi’s financial dealings. That investigation prompted a federal inquiry resulting in the former professor’s arrest on Oct. 12.

“The University has been in constant dialogue with the FHWA in terms of the audit,” said Sawaya, adding that the two parties are developing a “working plan” for the resumption of crash center funding.

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