SAN FRANCISCO—On Friday, May 22, the Department of Justice announced that the University of San Francisco (USF) has agreed to pay over $2.56 million in order to settle fraud allegations.
The settlement follows a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California claiming that, from 2014 to 2016, the university used fraudulent claims to obtain over $1.7 million in federal grant money from the AmeriCorps State and National Program.
After a whistleblower revealed the fraud, an investigation was jointly launched by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California and the Inspector General’s Office of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the organization that manages AmeriCorps grants.
The lawsuit was then ordered under the whistleblower protection provision of the False Claims Act.
The university had been using the money to finance its San Francisco Teacher Residency Program (SFTR). The program pairs USF students getting their master’s degree in teaching with high-needs schools in the San Francisco Unified School District. Participating students act as teacher apprentices for their selected school and make money to help pay their tuition.
According to its website, since 2010, SFTR has sponsored “nearly 150 aspiring teachers” and 89% have gone on to continue teaching in the San Francisco Unified School District. Applications for the program remain open.
In USF’s 2011 application to CNCS for the second year of SFTR funding, it outlined, “The SFTR staff meets weekly to ensure that communications and operations are running smoothly.”
In order to receive any AmeriCorps grants, USF had to prove to the CNCS that its volunteers served a certain number of hours. In order to prove this, the Justice Department alleged that USF falsified more than 1,500 timesheets and around 61 education award certifications throughout the years 2014, 2015, and 2016. So far, these are allegations only since no determination of liability has been made.
USF cooperated throughout the Justice Department’s investigation and gave up the grant money.
Regarding the university’s cooperation, U.S. Attorney Greg Scott said, “In this case, USF’s cooperation with federal investigators was a key factor in determining an appropriate resolution.”