A prosecutor said Thursday he has dismissed a felony fraud charge against a former North Carolina professor linked to a scandal involving academics and athletics because he has cooperated in the investigation.
Orange County district attorney Jim Woodall said in a statement he dropped the charge after Julius Nyang'oro cooperated with the criminal investigation and an independent probe into fraud in the department where Nyang'oro served as chairman. Nyang'oro had not cooperated with previous school investigations.
Woodall's decision closes the criminal part of the case, but the NCAA investigations into the long-running scandal in Chapel Hill — four years and counting — are ongoing.
A grand jury indicted Nyang'oro in December for obtaining property by false pretenses. He was charged with receiving $12,000 to teach a summer 2011 lecture class that did not meet and was treated as an independent study requiring a research paper. The school took back the money after learning about the class, which was filled with football players.
The school has hired former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein to look into irregularities in the formerly named African and Afro-American (AFAM) Studies department featuring classes with significant athlete enrollments. Wainstein has shared information with the NCAA, which said Monday it was reopening its probe into academic misconduct because new information was available.
The NCAA first visited UNC to investigate improper benefits violations within the football program in summer 2010 and sanctioned the program in March 2012.
In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Woodall said Thursday that Nyang'oro cooperated with the criminal investigation from the start and even spoke several times with investigators without an attorney. Woodall said Nyang'oro likely would have faced probation if convicted.
"To me it was more important to really have an opportunity to get as close to the bottom of this as we could," Woodall said, "rather than pursuing a single, low-level, nonviolent criminal charge against a person with no record who had paid the money back and been cooperative from the start."
In a statement Thursday, Wainstein said Nyang'oro has met with his staff "multiple" times and answered all questions.
"He has provided important insights and information we would not otherwise have received," Wainstein said. "In sum, his cooperation has contributed significantly to the progress that our investigation has made to date."
Nyang'oro stepped down as department chairman in 2011 and retired the following year. His attorneys, Bill Thomas and Butch Williams, said in a statement their client was "a decent and honorable man" who will continue to cooperate with Wainstein's probe.
"We believe the issues raised in connection with this case are best handled in the university setting," they said.
Previous investigations have uncovered fraud in the department, ranging from "paper classes" like the one that led to Nyang'oro's charge to unauthorized grade changes and poor oversight.
A 2012 investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin said problems dated to the 1990s and directed blame to Nyang'oro and retired administrator Deborah Crowder, while saying no athletic officials were involved.
Like Nyang'oro, Crowder had not cooperated with previous school investigations. But Woodall said in March that Crowder would not face criminal charges because she was cooperating with the criminal investigation. She is cooperating with Wainstein as well.
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