The former head of the University of South Carolina’s now-discontinued Center for Manufacturing and Technology pleaded guilty Thursday to federal wire fraud charges, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said in a news release.
Gail Shurling, 62, was accused of submitting bogus documents allowing the center to get $336,000 in federal grant money, then awarding contracts and making payments to shell corporations held in the names of family and friends for work that was not done.
In one example provided in court Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday told U.S. Judge Mary Lewis that Shurling had created a corporation controlled by Shurling’s mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease. Shurling then used that corporation to create false billings to draw down the federal grants, Holliday said.
The University of South Carolina, in a statement released after the plea was announced, said Shurling was fired in 2014 after USC was informed of the investigation by the federal Commerce Department’s inspector general. Activities of the Center for Manufacturing and Technology (CMAT) were suspended at that time and no further grants were sought, according to USC spokesman Wes Hickman. The CMAT no longer exists.
The center was established, along with similar organizations at other South Carolina institutions, to help small businesses in the state keep up with the quick pace of development in manufacturing and technology. It was part of the federal Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program established by Congress in 1988.
Shurling, who could be sentenced to 20 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $250,000, will be sentenced at a later date.
USC did not respond to queries as to how long Shurling had been employed at USC and how much she earned each year.
Statement from Wes Hickman, USC Director of Communications and Marketing
“In April 2014, we were notified by the U.S. Department of Commerce about an investigation by their Inspector General into the financial activity of the Center for Manufacturing and Technology (CMAT). CMAT was the subrecipient of federal grant funds through the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership to assist South Carolina companies with executive leadership development, engineering services and product testing, business consulting and export programs.
“USC cooperated fully with the federal investigator, immediately terminated the employment of Ms. Shurling, suspended the activities of CMAT and conducted an internal review. We did not seek to renew the CMAT contract or grant funding so the center no longer exists.
“Ms. Shurling knowingly violated university policy on dishonest acts and fraud; and, skillfully manipulated oversight systems and procedures.
“USC takes very seriously our obligation to uphold the public trust. We thank our community for bringing this situation to the attention of the proper authorities and commend the investigation conducted by the Department of Commerce.”