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Feds looking at Wheeling Jesuit, McAteer's billing

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Federal investigators are examining whether Wheeling Jesuit University and vice president J. Davitt McAteer illegally diverted federal funds between 2005 and 2011 by fraudulently billing expenses under grant programs or cooperative agreements, court documents show.

U.S. Magistrate James Seibert on Thursday renewed an order sealing search warrants, affidavits supporting those warrants and other documents in the case for another 60 days. "There is good cause," he wrote, "to continue sealing such paperwork."

But motions by both parties on whether to unseal them reveal information about the focus of the probe.

They show that NASA, the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General and other agencies seized documents from McAteer's offices in Wheeling and Shepherdstown on Feb. 16. McAteer, an attorney and former head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, runs the university's Office of Sponsored Programs.

Investigators seized, copied and then returned records of expenses billed to federal programs and other records indicating how Wheeling Jesuit handled certain kinds of expenses through its Combined Cost Management Service Center.

The motions also say investigators are looking at current and former employees of Wheeling Jesuit, and some are expected to appear before a grand jury.

"We continue to cooperate with federal investigators," said school spokeswoman Michelle Rejonis, adding that she hasn't seen the court records and could not comment on them. "As information becomes available to us, we will gather information and work from there."

In February, she said the investigation does not affect Pell Grants or other federal assistance to its 1,500 students.

McAteer's attorneys want the investigation documents unsealed. They claim McAteer has never been told what federal law he's suspected of violating and has no "meaningful information about why his property and client files were taken."

Attorney Stephen Jory said the government's refusal to share information in the affidavit "has already caused the loss of considerable time to the defense and potentially irreparable harm."

"The reputations of Mr. McAteer and Wheeling Jesuit University have been thrown into question by publicity surrounding the search of both Mr. McAteer's law office and the Office of Sponsored Programs at the university," Jory argued.

"It is extraordinarily unfair," he said, "and indeed, a violation of Mr. McAteer's Fourth Amendment rights, for the government to continue to keep the affidavit under seal when the search has already served to prompt the appearance of impropriety."

U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld, however, argues that while the press and the public have a right to judicial documents, sealing them in this case protects the integrity of the investigation. Secrecy now, he said, ensures that testimony is protected until all witnesses and subjects of the probe have either been interviewed or testified before a grand jury.

McAteer, a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit, has been a vice president of the Northern Panhandle school since 2005. He's also director of its National Technology Transfer Center and its Erma Ora Byrd Center for Education Technologies.

The NTTC does work on mine safety and health, missile defense, health technology and small business partnerships. The Center for Educational Technologies has housed the NASA-sponsored "Classroom of the Future" program since 1990.

From 1992 to 2000, McAteer was director of MSHA. He has been a vocal critic of the coal mining industry since leaving, and he's an international expert on mine safety. He has also led independent investigations into three West Virginia mine disasters: the 2006 Sago Mine explosion that trapped and killed 12 men; the 2006 Alma No. 1 mine fire that killed two men; and the 2010 Upper Big Branch explosion, which killed 29.


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