LANSING, Mich. — Metna Co., a Lansing research and development firm, has paid $500,000 to resolve allegations that it concealed its use of underpaid foreign graduate students to obtain Small Business Innovation Research contracts from the U.S. Army.
According to U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge, the students weren't eligible to work at Metna due to their visa restrictions.
Metna is run by former MSU engineering professor Parviz Soroushian. Soroushian was placed on leave by the university in 2018 after former graduate students sued, saying he had forced them to work at his company for little or no pay. A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in May.
The government alleges that Metna falsely certified it was not using foreign nationals to work on Army projects when in fact it was. The Army required applicants for the research contracts to declare any foreign nationals working on the project.
Officials say that Metna reported false information to Michigan State University about the number of hours students worked during the academic year in order for the students to keep their F-1 visas.
Metna also was accused of paying foreign graduate students substantially less than the hourly labor rate that Metna quoted to the Army in its contract budget proposals.
"The [Small Business Innovation Research] program involves intense competition for a limited pool of funds," Birge said in a statement. "Exploiting foreign students and then making misrepresentations to outcompete deserving and eligible small businesses are just the sort of allegations we should all care about."
In addition to the $500,000 fine, Metna’s president has agreed to a two-year, government-wide exclusion from federal contracting and financial assistance.
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