DA Mulls Dropping Ex-UNC Professor’s Fraud Charge - Higher Education

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DA Mulls Dropping Ex-UNC Professor’s Fraud Charge

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by Aaron Beard, Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. ― A prosecutor said Monday he is considering whether to drop a felony fraud charge against a former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor embroiled in a scandal involving academics and athletics.

Orange County district attorney Jim Woodall said Julius Nyang’oro has cooperated with an investigation led by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein into cases of alleged fraud in the former African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. Nyang’oro stepped down as department chairman in 2011 and retired in 2012.

Nyang’oro was charged with being paid $12,000 to teach a summer 2011 lecture course that did not meet and was instead treated as an independent study requiring a research paper. The school took back the money after learning about the class, a late addition to the schedule that was filled with football players.

Woodall’s comments were first reported by The News & Observer of Raleigh. He told The Associated Press his decision could come within the week.

“I just want to double-check and make sure that Nyang’oro was completely cooperative … and provided him with what he considered critical information,” Woodall said.

Bill Thomas, Nyang’oro’s attorney, said in a text message to the AP that he would not comment until Woodall makes his decision.

The AFAM department fraud included lecture classes that did not meet, but required a paper at semester’s end. Ex-UNC learning specialist Mary Willingham has said those “paper classes” helped keep athletes eligible.

Other problems included possibly forged signatures on grade rolls, unauthorized grade changes and poor oversight. A 2012 investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin said problems dated to the 1990s and blamed Nyang’oro and retired administrator Deborah Crowder, while saying no athletic officials were involved. Crowder also has met with Wainstein but has not spoken publicly about the case.

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Wainstein addressed the board of governors overseeing the 17-campus UNC public system Friday and told reporters afterward that both Nyang’oro and Crowder have cooperated fully with his probe.

The next hearing in Nyang’oro’s case was scheduled for this week, but Woodall said it has been delayed until the week of July 23.

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