July 7, 2015

Director of USC manufacturing program pleads guilty to wire fraud

Law-gavelA woman who once led the University of South Carolina’s Center for Manufacturing and Technology (CMAT) is now facing prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud Thursday.

USC discontinued the manufacturing assistance program last year and fired 62-year-old Gail Shurling, according to a statement the school released in response to Shurling’s guilty plea. She faces up to 20 years in prison when she’s sentenced at a later date, but likely faces less time after reaching the plea.

“Public corruption is not limited to elected officials, it extends to anyone who misuses the public’s money or abuses the public’s trust,” U.S. Attorney for South Carolina Bill Nettles said shortly after a federal judge accepted the plea.

Federal prosecutors said Shurling submitted phony documents to obtain $336,000 in federal grant money that she then used to award contracts and make payments to shell corporations controlled by family and friends for work that was not done.

The CMAT received funding from the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership to purportedly help businesses with executive leadership development, engineering services and product testing, business consulting and export programs.

Court records claim Shurling would have friends and family members submit bids on various CMAT contracts in the name of various companies. Shurling would then award the contracts to those shell corporations and later approve payments for work that was never completed. The guilty plead stated Shurling would then create fraudulent in-kind letters from those fake companies documenting work that was not performed.

“Ms. Shurling knowingly violated university policy on dishonest acts and fraud; and, skillfully manipulated oversight systems and procedures,” USC spokesman Wes Hickman said in the statement.

The FBI began investigating CMAT after a U.S. Commerce Department inspector general’s report flagged $3.4 million in questionable expenditures by the SC Manufacturing Extension Partnership, according to a 2009 McClatchy Newspapers report. The audit claimed South Carolina’s group could not properly support how it had spent the grants. The agency tried to recoup $1.1 million of that money. Investigators were able to link at least $336,000 of directly to Shurling.

Shurling faces up to 20 years in prison and a $200,000 fine when she is sentenced at a later date, plus restitution to be set by the judge.

SC State keeps accreditation, stays on probation another year

SC State Interim President Franklin Evans (File)

SC State Interim President Franklin Evans (File)

South Carolina’s only public historically-black college will remain on probation for another year, the school announced Thursday.

However, the announcement was seen as good news by South Carolina State University leaders who had been afraid the school could lose its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

“We have good news,” interim president Dr. W. Franklin Evans announced in a statement. “SC State University is open for business and we are here to stay.”

SACS has not yet posted its decision, but has notified school leaders. The group had placed SC State on probation last year over uncertain leadership and struggling finances. SC State still faces a looming $20 million deficit that it must address over the next year. State lawmakers also replaced the school’s entire board of trustees last month with a smaller version in hopes to eliminate strife among school leaders. The board will be tasked with finding the school’s fourth president in four years.

A five-member delegation had traveled to Virginia to meet with the accreditation group earlier this week. Evans said 90% of the committee’s questions dealt with financial issues and only one question focused on the quality of academic programs. “My response highlighted the many national accreditations of specific programs of study, the credentials of the faculty and the excellence of our teaching and learning, affirming that the academic quality and reputation of South Carolina State University are very strong,” he said in the statement.

SC State is also still at-risk to lose its accreditation next year if SACS does not feel enough progress has been made to improve the school’s finances. Enrollment for the upcoming fall has also declined by almost a third since September 2014, amid reductions in financial aid and state legislators’ threats to potentially close the school if things do not improve.

SACS is expected to post details of its actions on the commission’s website by June 18th.

Lawsuit claims SC college tuition policies discriminate against children of immigrants

A new lawsuit claims South Carolina’s college tuition requirements are unconstitutional for children of undocumented immigrants, forcing them to pay higher tuition than their peers.

The legal complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center challenges state regulations that require parents prove they are in South Carolina legally in order for their children to receive in-state tuition. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three students, including two who applied to College of Charleston and Trident Technical College. All three were born in other states but have lived in South Carolina for at least 10 years. One Converse College student has lived in Inman for 19 years.

The SPLC’s staff attorney told South Carolina Radio Network the group is seeking class-action status for all South Carolina students who are American citizens, but have undocumented parents. She estimated up to 170 students would fit the criteria each year.

“(The policies) are essentially rendering them stateless,” Michelle Lapointe said. “It’s saying they’re not residents of South Carolina, but they can’t establish residency anywhere else. They’ve only known South Carolina as their home.”

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Charleston School of Law names interim president

File photo

File

The Charleston School of Law (CSOL) has named its interim president as the school seeks to reverse its floundering budgets and find a prospective buyer.

Joseph Harbaugh is dean emeritus at Nova Southeastern University Law Center in Florida and will oversee the day-to-day operations at the small private law school.

“I am delighted Dean Harbaugh is willing to bring his decades of experience in legal education to the Charleston School of Law and I am excited at the opportunity to work closely with him to ensure a bright future for our school,” CSOL Dean Andy Adams said in an announcement. The statement from the school adds Harbaugh has two decades experience leading law schools and also has been an officer in the American Bar Association and the Association of American Law Schools.

The announcement comes just two weeks after the school’s remaining owners announced the layoffs of seven faculty members as part of budget cuts that they said would help the school remain open.

Harbaugh also has ties to InfiLaw Systems, serving on the law school system’s National Policy Board. InfiLaw had sought to purchase Charleston School of Law with the blessing of two CSOL founders, but a third founder and vocal numbers of students and faculty strongly opposed the sale. Largely in response to those concerns, the state Commission on Higher Education blocked InfiLaw’s acquisition efforts by delaying a licensing vote last year. The move came despite commission staff and the American Bar Association being in favor of the deal.

The law school still owes InfiLaw money for management fees and a defaulted loan, according to the Charleston Regional Business Journal. The founder who opposed the school’s sale Ed Westbrook has resigned his spot among CSOL’s founders.

CSOL’s previous president Maryann Jones only lasted a week in the job before she resigned in November, citing “vitriol” among school leaders as the primary reason for her quick departure.

SC State offering more financial aid as budget issues threaten to get worse

SC State logoSouth Carolina State’s newly-installed board of trustees got a crash course on the school’s worsening finances Tuesday, as school officials warned they may have to cut the budget by up to 41 percent as enrollment continues at the state’s only public historically-black university.

The State newspaper reports SC State’s enrollment director warned the board Tuesday that the school is expecting only 2,100 students on campus in August, roughly two-thirds what its enrollment was last year. That is 550 fewer students than what S.C. State used to calculate its budget for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1.

Vice President of Enrollment Management Betty Boatwright said the biggest reason was because the school did not award as much financial aid as in previous years. In an effort to bolster some last-minute enrollments, the board approved a motion to increase need-based scholarships by $1 million.

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