College professor spends nearly $190K in federal grants on strip clubs, sports bars

Adrianna Rodriguez, USA TODAY
This file photo shows a sign at Drexel University in Philadelphia on Wednesday, May 5, 2019.

A former university professor in Philadelphia spent tens of thousands of dollars in federal money for local strip clubs and sports bars over a 10-year period, the Justice Department says.

Dr. Chikaodinaka D. Nwankpa misused $189,062 of government grants from July 2007 through April 2017 while working at Drexel University, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The university has agreed to pay back the money to resolve its potential civil liability in the case. Drexel said Tuesday in a statement to USA TODAY that it takes "allegations of unethical or unlawful business conduct ... very seriously."  

The government’s investigation began in 2017 after Drexel voluntarily disclosed fraudulent charges to eight federal grants that it received from the Navy, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

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The grants were supposed to be spent on research related to energy and naval technology, but an internal audit revealed Nwankpa used the money for personal iTunes purchases and for “goods and services” provided by Cheerleaders, Club Risque and Tacony Club.

The Justice Department said Drexel has been cooperative in the government’s investigation to determine the full scope of the former professor's spending.

Drexel said in its statement that Nwankpa was placed on administrative leave during the investigation. 

He subsequently resigned from his position, paid back the university $53,328 and was barred from federal contracting for six months. He has not been charged with a crime.

“This is an example of flagrant and audacious fraud, and a shameful misuse of public funds,” said U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain. “The agencies providing these grant funds expect them to be used towards advancements in energy and naval technology for public benefit, not for personal entertainment.”

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McSwain lauded Drexel for reporting the matter but expressed disappointment that Nwankpa's conduct "went unnoticed for so long."

Drexel stated that the university is improving its auditing controls and training staff to recognize "financial irregularities" and report fraud. 

NCIS Northeast Field Office Special Agent in Charge Leo S. Lamont said misuse of taxpayer money not only “eroded the public trust” but also jeopardized efforts to obtain the best technology and research.  

Nwankpa had been with the university since 1990, according to his Drexel faculty bio. He was named head of the university's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department in 2015. 

In the same bio description, he boasts of writing hundreds of refereed journal and conference papers that were supported by grants totaling more than $10 million.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Drexel University professor spends federal grants on strip clubs, bars