Professor charged after ‘spending £142,000 of research money on strip clubs, iTunes and bars’

Conrad Duncan, Matt Drake
Nwankpa was placed on administrative leave after the investigation began and then resigned: Philadelphia Police Department

A university professor is facing criminal charges after allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands in research grant money and spending it on strip clubs, iTunes purchases, meals and other expenses.

Chikaodinaka Nwankpa, a 57-year-old research professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, was charged this week with "theft by unlawful taking" and "theft by deception", according to the Philadelphia district attorney’s office (DAO).

He is the former chairman of the university’s engineering department. It is not clear how the grant money was originally intended to have been used.

"Mr Nwankpa inappropriately and criminally diverted tens of thousands of dollars that were allocated for research purposes towards his own private enjoyment," district attorney Larry Krasner said.

"He betrayed Drexel University and tuition-paying students he was paid to educate.”

The research professor's alleged spending was noticed when an audit showed multiple “no receipt” purchases between 2010 and 2017, a Philadelphia DAO statement said.

Mr Nwankpa, who is accused of stealing $185,000 (£142,000) in research grant money, allegedly tried to pass off the strip club expenses as catering and food costs.

He is alleged to have spent more than $96,000 on adult entertainment venues as well as more than $89,000 on iTunes purchases.

He was placed on administrative leave after an investigation into him was launched, and then resigned.

Mr Krasner added in a statement: “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.”

This is the second time Mr Nwankpa has been accused of questionable spending at so-called gentlemen’s clubs after the university was forced to pay the Justice Department $189,062 in October to settle allegations of 10 years of improper spending against federal grants.

The Justice Department found that the majority of the money spent between July 2007 and December 2017 went to Philadelphia-area strip clubs.

"This is an example of flagrant and audacious fraud, and a shameful misuse of public funds," US attorney William M McSwain said.

"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."

Prosecutors said Mr Nwankpa repaid $53,328 to Drexel in October.

The professor was released from custody for the most recent charges this week after making a payment of $25,000 bail and surrendering his passport. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for 29 January.

He could face up to 14 years in prison and pay tens of thousands in fines if found guilty of both charges.

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