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A professor used $185K in research grants on strip clubs, iTunes and more, officials say


A former Drexel University professor allegedly spent research money on adult entertainment venues instead of approved studies, according to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

Chikaodinaka D. Nwankpa, 57, was arrested Monday and charged with theft by unlawful taking and theft by deception for stealing $185,000 in research grants, according to state prosecutors. It was unclear which subjects the grants were supposed to cover.

The former chair of the Drexel University Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering spent more than $96,000 on area strip clubs and sports bars, in addition to $89,000 on food and iTunes purchases, the district attorney’s office said in a statement.

A university audit showed the longtime professor, who spent nearly three decades at the school, made numerous, unapproved purchases between 2010 and 2017 that he tried to be reimbursed for through research grants, according to state prosecutors.

Nwankpa did not respond to requests for comment.

The professor tried to hide his midnight and early-morning strip club visits as catering and food expenses, according to the district attorney’s office. The numbers showed that nearly 50 percent of his 114 separate transactions were made on weekends, and 63 percent of those charges were processed between midnight and 2 a.m., state prosecutors said.

Larry Krasner, the city’s district attorney, said Nwankpa betrayed the university and its students.

“After a comprehensive investigation by our office’s Economic Crimes Unit, Mr. Nwankpa will have his day in court and will have to answer for his crimes,” Krasner said in a statement Tuesday.

This is the second time Nwankpa has been accused of questionable spending at “gentlemen’s clubs.”

In October, the university paid the Justice Department $189,062 to settle allegations of 10 years of improper spending against federal grants from the Department of the Navy, the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, according to the Justice Department. The majority of the money went to Philadelphia-area strip clubs between July 2007 and December 2017, the Justice Department stated.

The university informed the federal government of Nwankpa’s misconduct and assisted the government’s investigation of him.

“This is an example of flagrant and audacious fraud and a shameful misuse of public funds,” U.S. Attorney William McSwain said in October. “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.”

Drexel University agreed to pay the government to resolve the potential liability under the False Claims Act, a federal law providing the liabilities for defrauding the government.

Nwankpa repaid Drexel University $53,328 and resigned from his position amid the investigation. He was barred from federal government contracting for six months. He has been working as an engineering consultant since June 2017, according to his LinkedIn account.

Allegations of unethical or unlawful business conduct by university members is taken seriously by the school, Niki Gianakaris, executive director of media relations for Drexel University, said in a statement to The Washington Post.

“The University initially reported this situation to the U.S. attorney’s office and has worked cooperatively with federal and state investigations into the matter,” she said.

Nwankpa was released from custody after making a payment on his $25,000 bail and agreeing to surrender his passport. It is unclear if he has secured legal representation.

His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 29.

If convicted on both charges, Nwankpa could face up to 14 years in prison and pay up to $30,000 in fines.

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