WSU president reveals federal probe details in deposition

WSU president said he believed administrator would be indicted, court records show.

Wright State University President David Hopkins fired the school’s senior advisor to the provost because federal prosecutors led him to believe the administrator would be indicted for visa fraud, filings in a lawsuit show.

Ryan Fendley was fired in August 2015 in the midst of a federal probe into possible visa fraud. Fendley later sued the university, and recent court records as part of that lawsuit reveal new information about an investigation that began more than two years ago.

ORIGINAL REPORT: Fired Wright State administrator sues university

Fendley says the university can point to no reason for his firing in August 2015. But records filed by Wright State in response say Hopkins “understood after conversations with federal prosecutors and investigators that Fendley was believed to have engaged in criminal behavior.”

No charges have been filed, although the investigation is continuing, according to information in the court filings.

Hopkins testified at a deposition that in February 2015 he became aware the U.S. Attorney’s Office was investigating research contracts between WSU and a the Washington Twp.-based company, Web Yoga, the court records show.

RELATED: Suspended WSU employees tied to IT contract

During that deposition, Hopkins was asked by Fendley’s attorney, Ted Copetas, if he would consider the firing a mistake in the event that Fendley is not indicted.

“Yes,” Hopkins responded.

Copetas revealed details of the deposition in records filed last month in the Ohio Court of Claims.

“In particular, the U.S. Attorneys’ office was investigating whether the use of H-1B foreign worker visas in connection with those contracts amounted to visa fraud and focused its investigation primarily on three individuals: WSU’s Provost, Sundaram Narayanan, WSU’ s Principal Investigator in charge of overseeing the Web Yoga contracts, Phani Kidambi, and Mr. Fendley, who was the Director of WSRI at the time the contracts were signed,” the filing says.

RELATED: WSU sponsored visa for worker at trustee’s firm

Narayanan and Kidambi were terminated from their administrative posts but have remained on paid leave since May 2015. A fourth administrator, the university’s chief general counsel, was placed on administrative leave and retired after reaching a separation agreement.

The I-Team first reported in 2015 that WSU sponsored H-1B visas for 19 foreign workers for Web Yoga, a local information technology staffing firm, in an arrangement that immigration experts said could have violated immigration laws designed to prevent staffing agencies from trafficking in cheap labor from overseas.

SPECIAL REPORT: Lost Jobs; Importing foreign workers

Web Yoga Vice President Tamiko Lawton said when contacted this week that she was unaware of any federal investigation involving her company. Company president Vijay Vallahbaneni is out of the country on business, she said.

In a statement to the newspaper, Wright State said it does not comment on pending litigation. But in the court filings, its attorneys argue that Fendley was fired for “just cause” because “the President’s honest belief that Fendley had participated in criminal activity related to visa fraud for which he was under federal investigation.

“While Hopkins could not enumerate the specific law Fendley violated, he understood after conversations with federal prosecutors and investigators that Fendley was believed to have engaged in criminal behavior related to immigration matters while employed…at Wright State University,” wrote Lee Ann Rabe, an assistant attorney general representing Wright State.

Copetas argues that Wright State has no evidence to justify the firing because it did not conduct an internal investigation on Fendley. In their court filing, WSU attorneys say they were told not to interfere with the federal investigation.

RELATED: Visa fraud rarely prosecuted

This newspaper is working to obtain a full copy of Hopkins’ deposition.

“If (Fendley) never gets indicted, would that lead you to conclude that, well, maybe he didn’t engage in any criminal activity?” Hopkins was asked by Copetas during the deposition, according to the court records.

After an objection from Rabe, Hopkins answers: “Yes. If he’s not indicted, yes. But it was very clear to me that that was the intent.”

“And if he’s not indicted, then in your mind, terminating him would have been a mistake?” Copetas asked. “Is that fair?”

After Rabe noted another objection to the question, Hopkins answered “yes.”

Fendley’s lawsuit seeks $249,000 from Wright State. In a separate breach of contract suit brought in Greene County Common Pleas Court, the Wright State Applied Research Corporation paid Fendley $13,209 as part of a settlement.

RELATED: WSU pays $13K to settle lawsuit brought by former administrator

Wright State’s responses in the state court case note that the federal investigation is still under way.

“A person in such a high ranking position, such as Fendley, who is believed to be involved in criminal activity, brings disrepute upon Wright State,” the university’s attorney wrote in a Feb. 21 filing. “To preserve its reputation, Wright State had no choice but to disassociate itself with such behavior, thus the cause for the termination.”


WSU criticized for staffing deal with Soin

Wright State mentioned in Senate testimony on H-1B visas

Wright State trustee resigns

Wright State ‘poster child’ for abuses of worker visa program

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Centerville names new principal for Driscoll Elementary
Centerville names new principal for Driscoll Elementary

Centerville City Schools has named Erin Bucher as the principal of Driscoll Elementary for the 2018-19 school year. Bucher will be paid $98,564 in her new position, and Centerville’s Director of Human Resources Dan Tarpey says that her administrative experience will be a plus moving forward. MORE: Student brings loaded gun brought to Moraine...
Memphis Belle unveiling a boon for museum
Memphis Belle unveiling a boon for museum

The unveiling of the iconic B-17 Memphis Belle brought more than 42,000 people to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force from around the country and overseas, nearly doubling attendance compared to the same period in recent years, figures show. Museum officials received numerous phone calls, emails and inquiries, as well as had billboards, magazine...
Stray bullets that killed woman also struck neighbor’s home, friend says
Stray bullets that killed woman also struck neighbor’s home, friend says

A woman who lives across the street from the 62-year-old victim of a drive-by shooting said Monday that her home was struck by bullets that may have also killed Sherrell Wheatley on Saturday. Kenya Schumpert said she’d just left her Superior Avenue home to run an errand when she received a call to return home quickly. She arrived home and found...
Six tornadoes ripped through Ohio last year on this date
Six tornadoes ripped through Ohio last year on this date

This week marks one year since six tornadoes ripped through southwest Ohio on the same night. The National Weather Service confirmed four EF0 and two EF1 tornadoes on May 24, 2017 with winds as high as 100 mph land in this part of Ohio. These twisters ripped through businesses and homes, but luckily sparring all in their path from injury or fatality...
Obamas sign multiyear deal with Netflix to make movies, TV shows
Obamas sign multiyear deal with Netflix to make movies, TV shows

Former President Barack Obama has signed a multiyear deal with Netflix to produce films and television shows on the streaming service with former first lady Michelle Obama. >> Read more trending news  According to Netflix, the Obamas’ agreement includes scripted and unscripted series, documentaries and features produced by Higher...
More Stories