Lawyer's investigation of UNC academics could cost up to $990 an hour

dkane@newsobserver.comFebruary 25, 2014 

The work by a veteran lawyer and former U.S. Justice Department official to unravel a long-running academic scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill likely won’t come cheap, according to a letter released by a UNC system official late Monday.

The letter, dated Feb. 24, shows that the time of lawyer Kenneth Wainstein and three others in his firm will be billed at rates ranging from $450 an hour to $990 an hour to investigate the fraud within UNC’s African studies department.

UNC system President Tom Ross and UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt have agreed to pay $990 an hour for the services of Wainstein, a former U.S. Justice Department official now in private practice. One associate attorney, Joseph Jay, will be billed at $775 an hour, while another, Colleen Kikowski, will be billed at $535 an hour. The firm will collect $450 an hour for the time of another attorney, Katherine Preston.

“We also understand that other attorneys or staff may provide additional services, and that their time will be charged at their applicable hourly rates,” wrote Thomas Shanahan, a UNC system vice president and general counsel.

The letter does not set a time limit or a cap on costs of the investigation.

Joni Worthington, a UNC system spokeswoman, said the money will not come from taxpayer funds or tuition. In the past, that has meant drawing on money from a university foundation.

Wainstein is a partner with the Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft law firm in Washington, D.C. He has served as general counsel and chief of staff to the FBI in a 19-year career with the Justice Department.

Last year, he produced a report for the NCAA that dug into the botched investigation into improper benefits paid to University of Miami players by a booster. The report cited missteps tied to an NCAA enforcement official using the booster’s attorney to collect evidence in the case during bankruptcy proceedings. Wainstein said investigators resorted to “expedient but questionable tactics.”

A spokesman for the Cadwalader firm said its work for the NCAA ended last month.

Wainstein’s expertise in NCAA matters could come into play in the academic fraud scandal. Previous investigations have identified more than 200 classes that are either suspected or confirmed of never having met. Typically a paper was assigned at the end of the semester and often received a high grade. Athletes made up 45 percent of the enrollments in the classes, raising concerns that some involved in the scandal were using the classes to help keep athletes eligible.

NCAA officials did not respond to a request for information.

Ross and Folt called upon Wainstein after an internal UNC investigation and another led by former Gov. Jim Martin did not determine the cause of the academic fraud. They said Wainstein’s work would flow from new information gathered in a criminal investigation that led to a fraud charge against Julius Nyang’oro, the former chairman of the African studies department.

In January 2013, NCAA President Mark Emmert said he was awaiting the outcome of that criminal investigation to see whether UNC could face possible violations. But several months later, an NCAA enforcement official confirmed to the university in an email that he did not see a need for further action.

The new inquiry will add to a tab that has exceeded $1 million in the academic fraud case. Baker Tilly, a management consulting firm that Martin used for his investigation, cost the university more than $940,000 for its work. That firm used five employees who charged rates ranging from $180 an hour to $440 an hour.

The university has also spent $500,000 on outside public relations work related to the scandal. All of that money came from a university foundation.

Kane: 919-829-4861

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