State News

Audit scrutinizes NCSU prof's summer beach trips

Posted December 6, 2012

— A state audit released Thursday said a North Carolina State University professor took Outer Banks trips using public funds but could not provide documents designed to show the travel was work-related.

State Auditor Beth Wood's office said Thursday that Stacy Nelson, an associate professor of forestry and natural resources in N.C. State's College of Natural Resources, spent nearly $3,400 from state grant funds on two trips in July and August 2011. He and his family stayed in July at the Sanderling Inn near Duck at a rate of $588 per night for three nights, according to the investigative report.

"It wasn’t like staying at a Super 8 or a Motel 6," Wood said.

Without documentation supporting a business purpose, grant funds should have not been used to pay for the travel, the audit states.

Nelson won a grant from the state Department of Transportation for N.C. State University to examine whether high-resolution satellite images could be used to monitor underwater vegetation. The DOT must either mitigate damage to vegetated areas when building across waterways, and satellite imagery could make avoiding those areas easier.

Nelson said he went to the coast to validate data from plant and water samples performed a year earlier in Currituck Sound but did not retain paperwork with those results after they were recorded, according to the audit. University policy required records be maintained at least three years, the report said.

N.C. State flag, NCSU flag Prof says trips were legit, he simply lost paperwork

"We have high expectations and systems in place to ensure our researchers are conducting research appropriately and also documenting that research and travel appropriately," N.C. State spokesman Brad Bohlander said. "Because we didn’t catch it first doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have. We do have layers and systems in place to make sure we are appropriately spending public monies."

Nelson told WRAL News that he looked for more affordable accommodations at the coast but simply couldn’t find any. He also said that he included that data and documentation in his final report to the DOT.

Bohlander said Nelson has repaid the DOT for the trips, and N.C. State is emphasizing its record-keeping policies for researchers.

The investigation followed a complaint to the auditor's fraud, waste and abuse hotline.

23 Comments

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  • mike275132 Dec 7, 3:20 p.m.

    Ah , Your State Tax money at work,

    So nothing like living it up on the taxpayer's dime.

  • superman Dec 7, 9:55 a.m.

    It didnt say but you are not allowed to take family members in a state owned vehicle. When you take your family on a business trip it becomes suspect immediately. So be best to go alone. It is not ok to submit bogus travel and then it is audtied and you are discovered and then you get by with just refunding the money. There should be a penatly for people like him who are dishonest.

  • censorbait Dec 7, 9:49 a.m.

    He was just doing what the Obamas do. Outrageously expensive vacations are their stock in trade and he was just following suit with a $588 per night suite on the our dime. Wonder if he ordered lobster from room service a la Michelle O. When it comes to frugal and wise use of tax dollars our esteemed leader and his missus do not set a very good example.

  • GALNC Dec 7, 8:52 a.m.

    First off..since he didn't have any documentation to show his meetigns/results I am suspect has to the business of this trip.

    That being said, I have taken my family with me on trips. We booked my regular room...they had fun...I got to work 12 hour days. My expenses for food was covered. They paid for their own food, entertainment etc. I received the same room for my family (single room, double beds) and worked the entire trip.

  • SaveEnergyMan Dec 6, 7:41 p.m.

    The problem is not that his family went - after all, the cost of a room and transportation is the same whether for one or four go. If he worked for most of the trip and the grant wasn't overcharged for his time, there is no problem with him using unpaid free time with his family.

    The trouble comes in why he went and that it wasn't well documented. $588 per night had to be approved ahead of time by his supervisor since it is well beyond state rate. It would seem that he could stay elsewhere and drive an hour or two for that much of a cost difference. I think it could be said he is not a very good steward of the state's grant money. The DOT should keep that in mind next time he applies for a grant.

  • mgallen2 Dec 6, 6:57 p.m.

    Clearly the TaxMan didn't take the time to read this article in its entirety.

    "Bohlander said Nelson has repaid the DOT for the trips..."

    Chris Carter voice: C'MON MAN!

  • Tax Man Dec 6, 6:41 p.m.

    Why would he take his family on such a "work" trip? And surely the state should not pay for his family. So even if this was legit he should have only applied for the funds for his share of the trip. Make him pay it all back and put a letter in his file showing he was disciplined for this. And no more trips for the professor - in the future he needs to travel with his colleagues using school transportation and staying in public campgrounds.

  • lsdhome Dec 6, 6:10 p.m.

    Ahhh, travel expenses... the bane of the public servant: so easily and so often accidentally mixed up with personal expenses.

  • storchheim Dec 6, 6:03 p.m.

    I'm sure if I were caught stealing cash from my boss and just paid it back, I'd keep the job. Is this clown tenured?

  • lost in translation Dec 6, 5:50 p.m.

    I take the wife and kids on my business trips all the time. I charge my company for hotel at the highest end places, have great meals, and fly first class. Nothing to see here folks. Move right along.

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