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Continued: U of M professors in double-dip case quit

  • Article by: TONY KENNEDY and JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Last update: January 8, 2013 - 11:05 PM

In a quiet finale to a troubled tenure, the University of Minnesota is parting ways with Francois Sainfort and Julie Jacko, the star faculty couple investigated for double-dipping salaries in Minnesota and Georgia.

The pair's resignations were announced by e-mail inside the School of Public Health and confirmed Tuesday by university officials.

The professors faced pending disciplinary charges at the time of their departure, said General Counsel Mark Rotenberg. He said he couldn't give details about the university's charges because the two are no longer employees.

Sainfort and Jacko declined to comment on what precipitated their leaving and what they will do next.

The two professors were hotly recruited by the U more than five years ago for their potential to attract millions of dollars in research funding. Within three months of their arrival, however, they became suspects in a drama that evolved into grand jury indictments in Georgia, reprimands and demotions at the U, restitution payments and the conviction of Sainfort last year under a plea agreement.

In an e-mail to faculty colleagues Friday, Jacko's supervisor said that the professor had "decided to leave the University of Minnesota to pursue other professional endeavors." On Monday, Sainfort's co-workers learned that he, too, had "resigned from our faculty effective January 4, 2013, to pursue other professional endeavors.''

The e-mail announcing Sainfort's departure was unceremonious, but Jacko's supervisor lauded her work. "Julie has made stellar contributions ... during her time here, always demonstrating exceptional leadership across her many projects and endeavors," wrote Prof. William Toscano, head of the Division of Environmental Health Sciences.

The e-mails said Sainfort and Jacko will remain affiliated with the U as adjunct professors. But Rotenberg said that "to my knowledge, that temporary employment possibility has not been finalized.''

Rotenberg said he is under the belief that neither professor received or will receive severance pay. That could not be confirmed late Tuesday.

A Northrop reception

Sainfort and Jacko came to the U in 2007, after Minnesota outbid Georgia Tech for the two Ph.D.s by offering a package of high salaries, leadership positions, tenure and moving expenses. Sainfort was the prized recruit of School of Public Health Dean John Finnegan, who partnered with Nursing Dean Connie Delaney to also recruit Jacko.

Jacko was known for her work in "health informatics,'' a field that uses electronic medical records to improve and streamline patient care, and would later bring the U more than $5 million in federal research funds in the field. Sainfort was an expert on health care decision-making, and eventually served as principal investigator on more than $13 million in contracts and grants, according to his U biography.

The husband-and-wife team were officially welcomed to the U at a formal reception held Jan. 14, 2008, in the lobby of Northrop Auditorium.

But documents would later show that Sainfort also was committed to a contract worth $245,795 at Georgia Tech to work through June 30, 2008. His Minnesota contract, agreed to in August 2007, paid him $285,000 a year and made him head of the Division of Health Policy and Management.

Jacko's salary increase was even greater. She had accepted a $127,442 contract at Georgia Tech to work through May 15, 2008.

When she arrived in Minneapolis in late January of that year -- still on the payroll at Georgia Tech -- she stepped into a $216,000-a-year job as director of the Institute of Health Informatics, with tenure as a full professor.

Within three months of the Northrop reception, newspapers were writing about a criminal investigation by Georgia authorities into possible double-dipping. Sainfort and Jacko both took leaves to address the conflict, and the U later reprimanded them and imposed $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.

Still, the couple continued to work at the U even as Georgia began its criminal prosecution in March 2011. That's when a Georgia grand jury indicted Sainfort and Jacko on multiple felony counts. The indictment alleged that Sainfort and Jacko "conspired to be employed full time and receive salary from Georgia Tech while simultaneously being employed full time and collecting salary from the University of Minnesota.'' That indictment was later dismissed in favor of narrower charges.

Georgia case closed

Last spring, the Georgia case concluded with the dropping of all charges against Jacko in exchange for an Alford plea by Sainfort, in which he maintained his innocence but acknowledged that there was sufficient evidence to convict him. The last remaining count referred to an e-mail Sainfort sent to a Georgia Tech dean in February 2008 -- four months after he signed a contract with the U.

"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 ...'' He was ordered to pay $43,578 in restitution and sentenced to five years' probation, after which his record could be cleared.

When the Georgia case closed, the U said its administration would "carefully consider the facts associated with the case and determine how best to proceed.''

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168 Twitter: @ByJenna Tony Kennedy • 612-673-4213

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