A single guilty plea has ended the criminal prosecution of two University of Minnesota professors accused of drawing salaries from a pair of public universities at the same time.
In an Atlanta courtroom Monday, Francois Sainfort pleaded guilty to one felony count, was ordered to pay $43,578 in restitution and sentenced to five years' probation, after which his record would be cleared. The Georgia Attorney General also agreed not to prosecute Sainfort's wife, Julie Jacko, or her brother Robert Jacko. Both were indicted last year but those charges have been dismissed.
The deal closes a dispute that laid bare the intense recruitment battles for top-tier researchers. It also comes in the wake of legislative hearings and increased scrutiny of the U's handling of pay and severance agreements.
"This has lasted four years, so I am relieved that it is finally behind me," Sainfort said by phone. "I am very appreciative of the University of Minnesota for standing by me and my wife during these difficult times."
In a statement Monday, the university said its administration "will carefully consider the facts associated with the case and determine how best to proceed. This remains a private personnel matter. No decisions will be made in the near term."
Sainfort said that the U has been "very supportive" and that he "would not expect anything to change."
Jacko and Sainfort were disciplined by the U in 2010 after the dual-pay allegations surfaced.
Much of this case has centered on e-mails between Sainfort and his Georgia Tech higher-ups.
In one, Sainfort claimed a "completely full" schedule at Georgia Tech at the same time the University of Minnesota said he was working full time in Minneapolis. Sainfort's plea to one count of false statements and writings referred to a February 2008 e-mail exchange.
"As a matter of fact, Julie and I have not even signed an employment contract yet with Minnesota," his e-mail said. "We have only agreed to unofficially start this semester with full residence starting in May so that they can put the searches to rest and announce it to our respective units."
In March 2011, Sainfort and Jacko were indicted in Georgia -- Sainfort on 14 counts of conspiracy, theft and false statements and Jacko on 11 counts. The 27-page indictment highlighted travel expenses the pair charged Georgia Tech for trips to Minnesota. But in December 2011, the attorney general's office dismissed the indictment, according to a filing in the case.
In a phone call Monday, Sainfort and his attorney, Wilmer "Buddy" Parker, declined to discuss why Sainfort sent that e-mail. Parker maintains that both Sainfort and Jacko are innocent and were forthcoming with both universities about their employment.
"There was never any dual employment," Parker said.
Georgia's First Offender Act allows Sainfort's guilty plea to be dismissed if he successfully completes five years of probation.
Greg Lohmeier, Georgia's assistant attorney general, called it "a very satisfactory outcome."
"This was, always, a policy violation," Lohmeier said. "The question became, OK, how is this a criminal case? That was one of the things we struggled with."
Georgia Tech has agreed to accept the amount being ordered in restitution as settlement of any remaining claims, said a university spokesman.
Sainfort also had "a viable claim" against Georgia Tech for about $40,000 in unpaid vacation leave -- close to the amount ordered in restitution, which was based on what he owed for improperly billing travel expenses, Lohmeier said. "Given the amounts involved," he said, "we just called it a wash."
The University of Minnesota spent two years wooing the pair of professors away from Georgia Tech and bringing them to the U, where they currently are professors in the U's School of Public Health. They specialize in making sense of health data.
Jacko made headlines in 2010 for bringing in a $5.15 million grant to train health care professional in "health informatics," a field that uses electronic medical records to improve patient care and soothe administrative headaches. Her online biography says that she has generated nearly $15 million in research funding in the past 10 years.
U nursing Dean Connie Delaney said in a February interview that Jacko was hired as a consideration to the primary hiring of Sainfort. She said Sainfort was a "very significant hire'' in the School of Public Health.
Jacko's affiliation with nursing was short-lived. She requested and was granted a transfer to the School of Public Health, Delaney said.
Allegations of double-dipping first arose in 2008, leading Sainfort to resign as head of the School of Public Health's Division of Health Policy and Management.
In late 2010, the U disciplined the pair, imposing a total of about $59,000 in fines for fringe benefits and travel expenses also reimbursed by Georgia Tech. Sainfort was fined $44,024 of that, reflecting the fact that the U's investigation found Sainfort "largely responsible for" issues during Jacko's transition.
Staff writer Tony Kennedy contributed to this report. Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168