- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2008

The National Academy of Sciences is the world’s preeminent scientific organization with nearly 200 Nobel prize winners, but for years print shop manager Aubrey Scott outsmarted the whole bunch.

Scott, working at the academy’s graphics department in Washington in 2000, created invoices under $2,500 each to pay a shell company he founded. But by the time auditors caught on, six years had passed, $1.2 million was missing and Scott was driving a BMW.

The scam was outlined in federal court in the District yesterday as Scott received more than three years in prison. “I was a very bitter person … a very depressed person,” the 47-year-old Germantown man told a judge.

The losses have prompted questions concerning the finances at the prestigious academy, which prides itself as the leading scientific adviser to Congress and the White House.

“Mr. Scott’s breach of trust has required the institution to take measures to repair the damage to the institution’s image, credibility and reputation,” James F. Hinchman, general counsel for the academy, wrote in a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

“The theft has also threatened to damage the NAS’s reputation with many supporters and contributors,” he wrote.

“For example, we have received a number of inquiries from foundations requesting an explanation of the impact of Mr. Scott’s fraud on NAS’s financial condition.”

It’s unclear how the scam went undetected for so long. A spokesman for the academy said “it involved many small billings by a trusted employee.”

“Although we conducted a thorough audit, we’re still reviewing our internal procedures to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said academy spokesman Bill Kearny.

The academy’s internal probe cost about a quarter-million dollars, according to court papers.

The Washington Times first reported last year that federal authorities had begun an investigation into Scott’s dealings and moved to seize his home and freeze bank accounts.

At the time, he told The Times, “My side of the story hasn’t gotten out yet.”

Yesterday, Scott referred to a short letter he sent the judge last year in which he apologized to the academy, saying he “betrayed the trust of a longtime employer.”

Auditors found out about the scam after Scott left the academy. He was laid off in April 2006 because of downsizing. He landed a similar job at Amtrak, but lost it after supervisors learned of the investigation.

In court papers, investigators said that at Scott’s direction the academy paid a shell company called Paper Perfect Reproductions based on phony invoices from 2000 to 2006.

The last invoice found was approved on April 13, 2006, one day before Scott lost his job, according to court records.

Each of the invoices was for less than $2,500, which prevented the payments from surfacing during routine audits, according to court papers.

Much of the stolen money came from the federal government, which was charged for inflated paper and supply costs under the academy’s federal contracts and grants, court papers show.

Investigators said Scott rented a post office box at the UPS store in the District that was used as the address for Paper Perfect Reproductions.

Scott also was ordered to pay restitution yesterday. His family’s home in Maryland is being sold to help recoup the stolen funds.

Saying Scott has never been in trouble with the law, defense attorney Charles F. Chester asked for probation for his client.

“He is extremely shameful,” Mr. Chester said, citing Scott’s remorse.

But assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Zeno said the scam was “too great of a crime” to avoid prison.

“He simply has to be incarcerated,” Mr. Zeno said.

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