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The Associated Press October 7, 2011, 8:19PM ET

NDSU center's director fired for padding expenses

The longtime director of the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University was fired after an internal audit showed he padded his expenses, the university announced Friday.

Gene Griffin, who has been in charge of the independent think tank since 1980, overcharged the university more than $6,000 in the last three years, the investigation showed. A resignation agreement calls for him to pay back the money, NDSU President Dean Bresciani told The Associated Press Friday.

Bresciani said Griffin told NDSU officials the expense policy wasn't clear.

"He asserted that he didn't believe he did anything wrong, but we found that not be the case," Bresciani said.

Griffin did not return a phone message Friday.

Bresciani said the school has been criticized for questionable business practices in the past and he has instituted a zero tolerance policy. Former NDSU President Joseph Chapman resigned over criticism of his spending, including million-dollar cost overruns on university buildings and a $22,000 trip to President Barack Obama's inauguration for himself and his family.

Bresciani took over in June 2010.

"We've changed some auditing procedures," Bresciani said. "It caught exactly what it was designed to catch."

The audit on Griffin's spending showed overcharges in every month between August 2008 and June 2011, for a total of $6,169. The most in any one month was $352 in April 2009. Griffin was ineligible for reimbursement of those expenses due to meals already being reimbursed through another means, or because those charges didn't coincide with an eligible travel period, the report said.

Total entertainment and food costs charged by Griffin in that three-year period was $100,723.33.

The transportation institute was created by the North Dakota Legislature in 1967. In the 31 years that Griffin has been the director, the agency's budget increased from $175,000 to more than $10 million.

The agency's website said Griffin is "ultimately responsible" for nine research and outreach programs, as well as the graduate and undergraduate education programs. The center has gained nature stature in the area of small urban and rural transportation, the website said.

Griffin recevied a bachelor's degree in mathematics from NDSU in 1970, and a master's degree in economics from NDSU in 1971.

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