GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 3, 2009 – The FBI searched the office of Samim Anghaie, a scientist at the University of Florida (UF), amid a probe alleging that he and his family stole “hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegally obtained government funds” from NASA, according to media reports.
University officials told the Orlando Sentinel that Anghaie is working at UF under two NASA grants to study the use of nuclear power for space travel. The professor also directs the university’s Innovative Nuclear Space Power and Propulsion Institute and has taken a prominent expert role in the state’s efforts to secure nuclear power plants.
Court documents filed by the US Attorney’s Office in Tallahassee describe a criminal and civil investigation into “fraudulent” invoices that resulted in funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Anghaie, his wife, Sousan, and their two adult sons, Hamid and Ali.
The warrant alleges that Sousan Anghaie, president of New Era Technology, intentionally misrepresented budget information on NASA contracts and submitted multiple false invoices for workers.
Hamid Anghaie graduated from UF and is now a family wealth planning senior associate in Tampa. Ali Anghaie lives in Connecticut and works in information technology security for a space propulsion company, the newspaper reported.
Federal officials would not talk about the details of their investigation, which UF reacted to by placing Anghaie on leave with pay. He could not be reached for comment.
Also working the case are agents of NASA’s Office of Inspector General.
UF spokesman Steve Orlando told the newspaper that the current grants are for less than $500,000 and are among several that Anghaie has received from NASA since starting at the university nearly 29 years ago.
Investigative documents and warrants had been sealed until February 25, when seizure of Anghaie family property was authorized.
Orlando said a lone FBI agent began a search of Anghaie’s personal office and his institute office shortly before 8 a.m. and left at midafternoon. During the agent’s search, no other faculty members were questioned, the university spokesman said.
Assistant US Attorney Robert D. Stinson in Tallahassee is seeking to seize from the Anghaie family three late-model Toyotas, a 2009 Subaru, a 2007 BMW and a 2006 Acura. Several bank accounts and real-estate holdings of the professor and his family also are being sought by authorities.
The investigation centers on activities of New Era Technology, or NETECH, which was started in 1988 as a high-technology research company. Since 1999, NETECH has won 13 federal contracts worth $3.4 million, according to court documents, which state that about $2.5 million of that amount came from NASA.
One two-year contract, for $599,989 to develop mixed uranium fuels, expired in December, according to court documents.
The federal forfeiture case focuses to a high degree on the business dealings of Anghaie’s wife.
Federal agents alleged that NETECH and “notably Sousan Anghaie, intentionally misrepresented labor rates and other budgeting information on certified contract proposals submitted to NASA.”
“The submission of fraudulent invoices by NETECH resulted in the government paying NETECH, via direct deposits into their corporate bank account, monies well in excess of what was actually earned,” said agents of the FBI and NASA’s Office of Inspector General in a statement to support a warrant for seizing Anghaie’s property.
Robert “Moose” Cobb, NASA’s inspector general, would not provide further details.
Dan McLaughlin, a spokesman for US Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., acknowledged that Nelson met with Anghaie in 2007.
The two men discussed the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer – a $1.5 billion international physics experiment that researchers hope one day to mount aboard the international space station.
NASA has balked, however, because it does not have enough money to fly another shuttle mission to carry the experiment.
“This is one of the most significant science projects of our time,” Anghaie said in 2007 while he was one of 500 scientists working on the experiment.