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Former Argonne CFO Says He Was Fired For Calling Out Accounting Scam

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CHICAGO (CBS) — The former chief financial officer of the Argonne National Laboratory is suing the organization, claiming it fired him for blowing the whistle on some alleged illegal accounting at the lab.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Berner reports, in a lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court, Michael BesancoMichael n claims he refused to help certain “referred researchers” pay smaller amounts of the shared overhead costs at the lab. He was fired in 2010, and he says it was because he wouldn’t keep the scam going.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Berner reports

Argonne is managed by the University of Chicago and the U.S. Department of Energy, and the suit says many researchers bill the federal government for their work. The uneven sharing of the overhead costs resulted in larger amounts being billed to government research programs rather than those with other funding, the suit claims.

The “discounted” costs would allow researchers more money to pay salary to themselves and staff as well as purchase supplies, according to the suit.

Besancon claims part of his job was to make sure that the overhead costs were divided among all of the projects fairly, but from the time he started at Argonne he received multiple requests for the discounts, according the suit. He also learned that these discounts had been given for years before his hiring.

Besancon told the lab’s director and chief operating officer about the requests, that the discounts went unreported to federal regulators and that they were illegal. In response, the lab’s director told Besancon he wanted to continue the practice “for strategic reasons,” according to the suit.

When Besancon refused a discount request shortly afterward, the lab’s director went ahead and approved it, according to the suit.

Besancon estimates that between 2006 and 2009, the lab provided $7 million to $8 million in such discounts. According to the suit, Besancon was fired in 2010, after he declined to approve the discount requests.

Besancon was hired at Argonne in 2008 after leaving the Associate Dean for Administration, Finance and Planning at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering.

The two-count suit seeks more than $50,000 in compensatory damages for Argonne’s violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act.

The Sun-Times Media Wire was unable to reach an Argonne representative Thursday night.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)