Boulder-based weather nonprofit pays $2.4 million to resolve federal fraud allegations

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The Center for Severe Weather Research, a Boulder-based nonprofit organization, has paid $2.4 million to resolve allegations that it engaged in fraud related to grants it received from three federal agencies.

The settlement, announced Friday by the U.S. Department of Justice, also resolves allegations that the principals of CSWR, Joshua Wurman and Ling Chan, improperly obtained payments to which they were not entitled, a justice department news release said.

“Our office works to protect taxpayers by stopping people who wrongfully obtain federal grant money,” said Acting U.S. Attorney, District of Colorado, Matt Kirsch, in the release. “We will pursue both organizations and individuals if they improperly obtain federal funds or fail to track those funds with adequate safeguards and controls.”

The improperly used grants to CSWR were from: the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. The grants were awarded for scientific research.

The Justice Department alleges that from 2004 to 2020, CSWR improperly requested payments from federal grants for expenses that CSWR had not incurred. The nonprofit also had inadequate internal controls for the federal funds it received, including inadequate documentation and controls over large cash transactions, the release said. CSWR conducted scientific weather research popularly known as “storm chasing” with its “Doppler on Wheels” fleet.

The resolved allegations against Wurman and Chan concerned rental payments for CSWR offices in their personal residence, the release said. The pair repaid $203,776 as part of the settlement.

“Each year the National Science Foundation awards millions of dollars in grants to promote promising scientific research,” said NSF Inspector General Allison Lerner, in the release. “However, the Foundation expects grant recipients to follow federal cost principles. Expenses charged to grants must be allowable, allocable, and reasonable. I commend the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our investigative partners for their work on upholding federal grant rules in this case.”

The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Wang.