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Principal Investigator Detlev Helmig looks at data inside the air monitoring station at Union Reservoir in Longmont on April 8. A University of Colorado audit alleges he committed fiscal misconduct, including diverting business to his private company, which has a contract with Longmont to monitor air quality, and costing the university more than $700,000.(Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

An audit of former University of Colorado Boulder researcher Detlev Helmig alleges that he committed fiscal misconduct, including diverting business to his private company and costing the university more than $700,000.

The allegations may lead to civil prosecution to recover the money and “forwarding information to the appropriate authorities for criminal prosecution,” according to the audit report sent to Chancellor Phil DiStefano on Thursday.

“Among other things, the report has concluded that additional remedial action may be warranted,” spokesperson Candace Smith said in an email to the Daily Camera. “The university will examine the report and will use it to determine appropriate next steps. If we have any reporting obligations to funding entities, including the federal government, we will meet those obligations.”

Helmig’s attorney, former state Rep. Joe Salazar, said he has documents that disprove the report’s findings. Salazar said he told investigators in May about the documents and that he would have provided them to investigators if they had requested them. He declined to share them with the Daily Camera until he meets with CU system attorneys.

Salazar accused the university of trying ruin Helmig’s reputation as a world-renowned scientist.

“That’s sad and that’s sad for the state of Colorado,” he said.

Salazar said he and Helmig will move forward and prove to the public what is true. Helmig has not yet decided whether to pursue legal action against the university, Salazar said.

Helmig was terminated from CU Boulder’s Institute of Alpine and Arctic Research in April over concerns that he was not separating his publicly-funded research from his business, Boulder AIR.

Helmig, who was an INSTAAR research professor and scientist, is known for his research on air quality and pollution. Boulder AIR’s work includes implementing atmospheric monitoring programs that monitor trace gases, pollutants, and oil and gas emissions.

The 13-page audit report alleges years of misconduct, including that Helmig diverted contracts with Broomfield and Boulder County to his private business that would have otherwise gone to CU Boulder.

Broomfield City Council approved a contract with Boulder AIR for $707,882 in December to monitor air near Extraction Oil & Gas, Inc., wells. That is the same amount the audit report alleges that CU Boulder lost because of Helmig’s actions.

CU Boulder investigators could not obtain a copy of Boulder AIR’s contract with Boulder County, according to the report, so that loss could not be quantified.

“While Mr. Helmig’s employment at the university was terminated in April 2020, the information obtained supports a conclusion that, if Mr. Helmig’s actions had not been detected, he would have continued to divert funds away from the university and that he represented an ongoing risk to the university,” the report states.

County spokesperson Christian Herrmann said Boulder County Public Health did not contract directly with Boulder AIR while Helmig was at INSTAAR. The county contracted with INSTAAR for air monitoring at the Boulder Reservoir, and Helmig was the lead on the project.

“When Dr. Helmig was let go from CU, we began the process of moving that contract over to Boulder AIR based on his longevity and lead status with that project. The contract with Boulder AIR for the Boulder Reservoir monitoring study is not yet final,” Herrmann said.

The county also contracted with Colorado State University for a modeling study based on the information from the Boulder Reservoir, and CSU told the county it would consult with Helmig through Boulder AIR, Herrmann said.

Colorado State University could not immediately confirm if it still holds a contract with Helmig.

Herrmann said the county cannot comment on personnel issues between the university and Helmig.

“We can, however, state that we maintain full confidence in Dr. Helmig’s work and the veracity his findings,” Herrmann said in an email. “We respect his many years of work in the field of atmospheric science and the international recognition that this work has earned.”

Broomfield city officials had not responded to a request for comment as of 5:30 p.m. Friday. On Monday, city officials declined to comment.

The audit states that investigators talked to INSTAAR employees and Helmig and reviewed years of financial records before determining that Helmig committed fiscal misconduct under Board of Regents policy, including using university property for personal gain and improperly handling financial reports.

The report also alleges that Helmig misreported financial information to the National Science Foundation.

Helmig denies most of the allegations of misconduct, according to the report, except for one case in which he intentionally kept an employee at part-time “to avoid paying fringe benefits.” Fringe benefits include university contributions to health and retirement plans.

“Mr. Helmig stated now that he looks back at this situation, it was a mistake and that he regrets going this,” the audit states.

Helmig started Boulder AIR because Longmont city officials did not want to pay CU Boulder’s facilities and administrative fees for a project, according to the audit.

“(Helmig) stated that he did not want Boulder AIR to compete with the university. However, he asserted that due to the administrative hurdles at the university, it was easier for the City of Longmont, Boulder County, and the City of Broomfield to go through Boulder AIR,” the report states.

Helmig signed a conflict of interest management plan with the university that granted him a one-time exception to perform work for Longmont through Boulder AIR, according to the report, and his work with Broomfield and Boulder County was a violation of that agreement.

Boulder AIR’s March 2019 contract with Longmont is for $403,341 for monitoring at Union Reservoir, with the option for an additional $154,905 for monitoring in west Longmont, the audit states.

The report cites an email between Longmont city officials and CU Boulder, in which city officials said that they originally planned to sign an intergovernmental agreement because Helmig was a CU Boulder employee, “but Dr. Helmig requested we contract with his company which we understood was not under the auspices of CU.”

Salazar, Helmig’s attorney, took issue with the idea that the contracts with Broomfield and Boulder belonged to CU Boulder.

“We have emails where Longmont and Broomfield refuse to engage with the university because of the bureaucracy, and the university was not responsive at all to these municipalities,” Salazar said.

Salazar declined to share the emails with the Daily Camera until he has talked to CU system attorneys.

Smith, the CU Boulder spokesperson, said the university has “a proven track record and long history of working successfully with international, federal, state and local entities.”

Longmont Deputy City Manager Dale Rademacher did not respond to requests for comment.

Helmig also worked on multiple projects funded by the National Science Foundation, including studying emissions from arctic tundra wildfires and emissions from arctic tundra vegetation.

The CU Boulder audit cites multiple instances between 2009 and 2018 when Helmig’s actual travel expenses for National Science Foundation projects were “dramatically less” than the expenses listed on the award proposals. In one case, his budgeted travel expenses were $55,800 and the actual expenses were $7,558.32.

“Mr. Helmig also deliberately failed to maintain accurate records regarding time and effort reporting, resulting in knowingly inaccurate effort reporting to the NSF,” the report states.

In one case, the audit report states that while some of Helmig’s actions in “adhering to or exceeding original budget categories” were concerning, they were not an apparent violation of university or federal policy.

Issues of alleged misconduct are investigated by the National Science Foundation’s Office of Inspector General, spokesperson Rob Margetta said.

NSF Office of Inspector General Chief of Staff Lisa Vonder Haar declined to comment on the audit report. Vonder Haar said she could not confirm or deny whether there is or has been an investigation involving Helmig.

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