Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Brian McNaughton story only gets weirder

Readers of the blog will undoubtedly remember the odd case of Brian McNaughton, the Colorado State professor who faked an outside offer letter in order to get a raise. Via The Chronicle of Higher Education's Jack Stripling and Megan Zahneis, an answer to my question: Why did the Larimer County District Attorney go after Professor McNaughton?
Final as it seemed, the separation agreement never envisioned a person like Kyle Strunk. A private investigator and fiscal hawk, he would not rest until McNaughton’s lie was exposed. The website for Flatirons Private Investigations describes Strunk as a retired military intelligence officer who speaks Arabic and German. According to his biography, Strunk maintains a secret security clearance, and his two decades of sleuthing have sent him to the Middle East, Oceania, and Asia.  
But the assignment that has most animated Strunk of late started closer to home, near his Broomfield, Colo., headquarters. In Strunk’s telling, Stacey McNaughton first contacted him to ask if the private investigator would surveil her ex-husband when their children were visiting him in Fort Collins. Strunk says he never did that particular snooping. But he took a keen interest in what he learned about Brian McNaughton, a public-university professor who had defrauded the taxpayers of Colorado and seemed to have gotten away with it. 
This was just the sort of thing that got a rise out of Strunk and his buddies, a group known as the Colorado Society of Private Investigators. 
“We investigate public corruption,” Strunk says, “and this kind of met that test.”
This past spring, Strunk sent a records request to Colorado State for correspondence related to McNaughton. What he found angered him. This wasn’t some employment dispute that could be quietly worked out by lawyers, he concluded; it was felony forgery. But that crime, Strunk was convinced, had been swept under the rug by the university. 
The records Strunk obtained, including a recorded phone call, showed that Jason Dobbins, a detective with the university police, believed he had an “open and shut” case of identity theft and forgery against McNaughton. But the police appeared to sit on the case for 10 months, during which time McNaughton negotiated with the university as if the criminal matter had been shelved. 
It was only after Strunk and others mounted a campaign, pressuring public officials to bring the hammer down on McNaughton, that the university police referred the case to the Larimer County district attorney. 
“The whole state of Colorado,” Strunk says, “was flooded with letters saying, ‘This person did this; why aren’t you doing anything about it?’ ”
So that explains it: Professor McNaughton had the bad luck of having someone find out about his forgery, and that person implemented a campaign of pressure on the parties that could do something: the university police and the Larimer County DA.  

22 comments:

  1. My wife brought this up. How do you manage to get away with taping your spouse? Not only aren't you supposed to tape someone unawares, but I thought that there was a marriage privilege to boot (though I'm not a lawyer and so don't know for sure how that works).

    My lesson: If I'm going to be lonely, I'd rather be alone.

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    1. I forgot to edit. Ack.

      If he had chosen not to lie to amplify his own worth, then none of this would have happened, but it seems like he got punished worse because of a coordinated campaign against him (I have a hard time believing the fake Twitter accounts were someone else's prank, and the various attempts by his ex to nail him for something with the police suggest to me that if he did anything wrong, he was going to get completely screwed, somehow). It's hard for me to see this worth permanent exile while people who falsified stuff in papers and grants (or either actively or passively encouraged (by not asking questions and cashing the checks) such falsification) get off scot-free or receive temporary exile. It seems somewhat disproportionate to me.

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    2. Completely agree. It's very difficult to understand why he is essentially banned from future research activities while far worse fraudsters aren't. It is still his own fault for doing the fraud, but somehow the outcome seems very incommensurate. I think it's good that the fuller story came out. Now we can understand this outcome as stemming from the depravity not just of B. McNaughton himself, but of multiple parties, including his ex-wife for sure and possibly even the private investigator too.

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    3. Assuming the private eye and the ex were in cahoots--she basically shot herself in the foot- by depriving McNaughton of employment, she loses the lucrative, tax-free child support payments she could have spent on herself...:)

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    4. Maybe her job actually pays more than twice what his did? Maybe she is a professional that can and does actually earn enough to more than take care of herself and kids? Do you seriously believe he lied to get an extra $5000 so that they could be wealthier? Whatever.
      Maybe if he wasn’t a pathological lier and a cheat. Yeah I said it- he should have know. That cheating on his wife was gonna trigger something in response. Reading about his story makes me imagine he met some skank at a conference, they both had a little too much wine or cheap beer and ended up at one of the others hotel room. He prob thought he still had game and she prob was some lab nerd that was more attracted to his reputation in the lab.
      In today’s ways of communication, the two most likely could t stop texting, sexting and sending cute emojis back and forth. Somehow his ex-wife found out and told him to get the hell out. (Again, she makes more that 2 to 3 times his salary so her income got them their house and cars etc). So now he’s living in some college town apt that he could t afford on his shitty academic pay so my assumption his ego prob took her to court to get alimony $$.
      Now living as a single guy, with an ego and thinking he still has game, my guess is he started working out, lost his dad bod fat ass and started chasing the girls on campus. Prob sported a new hairdo and walked around campus with a tad bit o swagger.
      Finally when shit but the fan at CSU.... well.... I’m thinking he stood in the middle of whatever room he was in at the time, bent both knees slightly, put both hands on his head and repeated in a desperate heavy breathing voice ‘Oh shit, Oh shit Oh shit, what the f am I going to do... repeat.
      What an ego driven douche bag. Blame it all in the ex-wife. Don’t own up to anything you’ve done. Lie and whine.
      I hope you at least have been humbled to the point that the next Frappuccino you make for your customer was the best you could mix up and you hand it to them with a smile.
      Baby steps now Brian, baby steps. You’re still young and can make it out of this gigantic hole you’ve dug!

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    5. ^^^^^ and this right here is why I keep the posts open for as long as I do.....

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    6. Hmmm..I wonder where the IP of that post tracks to CJ haha. Clearly written by some type of barely literate psychopath.

      Realistically though..Even if he doesn't manage to land another job in academia, which I feel he eventually will be able to do, he should have no issues jumping into pharma. Somebody that talented has to be highly sought after in this job market.

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  2. https://lifehacker.com/what-you-need-to-know-when-recording-your-enemies-1795226719

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  3. But they're going to waste orders of magnitude more money to prosecute the guy than his measly $4k pay raise? And then if found guilty, pay even more for an otherwise productive citizen to sit in a cage? Quite the fiscal hawk.

    I'm not saying what the guy did was right, but seriously, the punishment should fit the crime. The university probably negotiated the separation agreement because they believed it fit the crime, or it would save them money, or both.

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    1. I was puzzled by the somewhat small raise too, until I read. about the $500k in research money. Wonder how much is left of that...

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    2. It seems the issue is the pay raise though. From his admission letter, he states 27 papers and >$4.5 million in grants (as a pretenured professor!)... quite productive if you ask me. I wouldn't call that $500k wasted money. Playing political games to get more research money/lab space is standard fare in academia. I've witnessed all sorts of abhorrent behavior in order to reach the same ends. He crossed a line in the rules of academic warfare and got caught in the crosshairs of someone with an agenda.

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    3. I don't think this was about conservative ideology; I strongly suspect the vindictive ex-wife sicced this guy on him. There are plenty of more attractive targets in academia for someone with a political motivation.

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  4. Using FOIA to get professors' emails at big state universities could make for some highly entertaining reading here and on other chemistry blogs.

    "Of course I'll email you that copyrighted journal article your university didn't pay for access to."
    "Photoshop out that solvent peak and and submit that paper."
    "I won't hire a woman postdoc because she might get pregnant."
    "We all know Professor So-and-So is a pervert, but he brings in a lot of funding."

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    1. People who make those kinds of statements and orders tend also to be really good at giving them in a way that can't be verified by anyone else, at least if they're around for long. And, of course, if they bring in the money (or the wins, in sports), even if they're dumb enough to say it where it can be recorded or otherwise made provable, then everything will be covered over or another scapegoat found.

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    2. I know one very famous organic professor at a certain Ivy League school saying he refuses to hire any white and american postdoc as they're too expensive and generally pretty lazy. Is this not racist?

      PS- this professor is a white male.

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    3. A foreign postdoc can be made to work 80 hours a week with the threat of being sent back to China/India/wherever.

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  5. It seems like to me the issue here isn't that he was overly harshly punished, but that other people who also do unethical things are frequently let off with no significant repercussions.

    In a time when there are more highly qualified chemists than there are faculty positions, focusing on someone who seems toxic at the department level (given the plethora of complaints going over the department chair to the dean) and willing to falsify documents for money seems... ill advised rather than moving on to another good scientist that's going to be a productive member of the department.

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    1. Except lots of people likely succeeding in academia have these same issues, but are either better at hiding them or are more proficient at bringing in money to make the trouble worth it for their bosses. In addition, worse sins seem not to get punished [I would rank harassment and data falsification higher, and passive assistance to falsification in the long term (looking the wrong way while people in your lab do it), and those have a poor record of getting anyone other than grad students or postdocs hosed].

      Not getting rid of McNaughton doesn't make these issues go away, and he probably should have gone away. If other people that have similar issues get away with it, though, one wonders if the "getting away with it" is all that matters. That ends up making (or already makes) academia a place bad for students (who are usually at the short end of the power stick). It means that people are more likely to cheat and to do whatever it takes to win, because if they win (get money and papers), all else will be forgiven. Besides all the many reasons the Trumpites' criticism of McCain was execrable, the idea that winning (not getting caught) is all that matters in war means that you get armies that commit atrocities and that eventually your people and your army will pay a horrible price for those atrocities when you lose. I'm not certain why that won't apply to other activities as well.

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  6. Professor Who Forged Offer Letter Reaches Plea Deal

    https://www.chronicle.com/article/Professor-Who-Forged-Offer/244469

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  7. Why was his wife never charged? I thought she knew about/egged on the whole thing, and then tried to hold it over him when things got nastier. Isn't that accessory and then blackmail?

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  8. he never got 500K. CSU actually screwed him over pretty hard. he was only given money for a postdoc and the small raise. his ex-wife was entirely behind this. (former CSU peep)

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