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Flatow, 'Science Friday' settle claims over grant

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Radio host Ira Flatow and his "Science Friday" show that airs on many National Public Radio stations have agreed to pay nearly $146,000 to settle civil claims that they misused money from a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation, federal officials said Tuesday.

Flatow and the show did not admit any wrongdoing, but they agreed to not participate in federal grant programs for one year, in the settlement announced by Connecticut U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly and Inspector General Allison Lerner of the National Science Foundation.

"This settlement sends a clear message that recipients of federally funded grants must strictly adhere to the regulations applicable to those grants," Daly said in a statement. "If recipients fail to do so, they risk significant consequences."

The agreement follows previous similar civil settlements with public broadcasters or affiliates over how they tracked the spending of grants from the foundation. In 2010, a subsidiary of WNET in New York agreed to a $950,000 settlement, and in 2012 WGBH in Boston settled for $300,000.

"I disagree with the conclusions of this investigation," Flatow said Tuesday. "I spent the money exactly how I said I would, delivered the show exactly how I said I would.

"We've agreed to disagree," he said. "How much is it going to cost to disagree, that's what we're talking about here. I've been successfully receiving grants for 40 years. ... Why am I suddenly being penalized for conforming to the same standards I have for four decades?"

The National Science Foundation, based in Arlington, Virginia, said in a statement that the settlement stemmed from a routine grant compliance review.

Authorities declined to release specific details of the allegations against Flatow involving the $998,554 grant, which was aimed at boosting the show's reach to younger listeners through social media and other methods. Officials said the show and Flatow violated the federal False Claims Act and common law.

According to the settlement document, investigators with the National Science Foundation found that the show "inappropriately used grant money to cover unallowable and unsupported costs" and submitted false documents to the federal government.

Flatow and Science Friday Inc., a for-profit corporation based in Stamford, committed the violations while managing the grant and producing the show from August 2009 to July 2011, federal officials said.

"Science Friday," which was created by Flatow in 1991, is now produced by the nonprofit Science Friday Initiative Inc. in New York City and distributed by Public Radio International.

Flatow, who received a public service award from the National Science Foundation in 2005, said he didn't expect the settlement to affect the show.

NPR officials declined to comment on the settlement and said individual stations decide which shows they air.

Julia Yager, a senior vice president at Public Radio International, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, also declined to comment on the settlement. She said the allegations dated back to before PRI began distributing "Science Friday" in January, and the company has no plans to change its distribution of the show.

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