U of Minnesota officials had fined indicted prof couple last year

Sainfort

This case may sound familiar:

Francois Sainfort and Julie Jacko, the prominent University of Minnesota husband-and-wife professor team whose legal troubles MPR reported in 2008, have been indicted in Georgia — accused of illegally drawing paychecks from both the U and Georgia Tech at the same time.

Jacko

They’re charged with conspiracy to defraud the state, theft by taking and making false statements. They allegedly billed Georgia Tech for for travel expenses, lied to Georgia Tech about working at both institutions, and funneled some of the money to Jacko’s brother, Robert.

In an e-mailed statement, University of Minnesota General Counsel Mark Rotenberg stated the U has already reprimanded them over the matter and ordered them to pay money — but left open the door to more sanctions:

“On December 14, 2010 Professors Sainfort and Jacko were disciplined by the university after a review of the facts surrounding their transition from the Georgia Institute of Technology to the University of Minnesota in 2007-2008.  Both professors received letters of reprimand and were required to pay the university approximately $59,000.  As part of their reprimands, the university advised them that there may be grounds for further university review and action in the event material new facts come to light.

Update: Rotenberg told me on the phone:

“The discipline that the university already imposed is subject to further review in the event that new material facts arise. This indictment is not a set of new facts. They’re allegations. If new facts come out during a criminal case, we will review them and reserve the right to take further action. But right now they are employed as they were before.”

Rotenberg said the $59,000 money the couple paid covered travel costs and the fringe benefits paid out to them during the double-payment period as well as repayment of some of the U’s investigation costs. It did not include salaries.

The duo started at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2007. Sainfort became head of the Division of Health Policy and Management at the School of Public Health, and Jacko became director of the Institute for Health Informatics at the University of Minnesota’s Academic Health Center.

The Daily Report’s At Law blog reports that the duo allegedly double-dipped between October 2007 and January 2008. The travel expenses in question came between July 2006 and February 2008.

It quoted the couple’s attorneys:

Wilmer “Buddy” Parker III, attorney for Sainfort, said the professors were physically present, teaching and conducting research, at Georgia Tech during the times mentioned in the indictment, though they eventually transferred to the University of Minnesota. He also said Sainfort completed a project for Georgia Tech during that time that came under budget.

“There was no money stolen from the state of Georgia in regards to salary. Sainfort is a well known professor who brought in multiple millions in grants for Georgia Tech,” Parker said. “And he did not actually oversee or handle his travel arrangements. That was handled by the administrative staff.”

Parker also said Georgia Tech should not have elevated the matter to a criminal case.

“It should have been addressed, if it needed to be, in civil litigation,” he said.

Julie Jacko’s attorney, Robert G. Rubin of Peters Rubin & Sheffield, could not be reached for comment. However, Rubin said in a press release that his client “has always been forthright and honest in her dealings with Georgia Tech and fully expects to be exonerated at trial.”

Robert Jacko’s attorney, Bruce H. Morris with Finestone and Morris, says the defendant was paid to help Sainfort on the project and was unfairly “dragged” into the case.

“Georgia Tech, through professor Sainfort, received grant money for Sainfort to conduct a project dealing with the creation of a database for predicting the healthcare needs of employees,” Morris said. “Robert Jacko did some of the work. He submitted invoices and was paid. The customer was as happy as can be with the work.”

If convicted, Sainfort faces a maximum of 165 years in prison and a fine of more than a million dollars. Jacko would face a maximum of 115 years in prison and a fine of more than $900,000.

The Minnesota Daily reports that Sainfort resigned from the directorship of the Division of Health Policy and Management at the School of Public Health in September 2008 — before the scandal broke. He is now Mayo professor there.