by Devi S. Laskar
(Published on Medium)
The statement released by the Attorney General’s Office Monday afternoon is largely a work of fiction.
Almost five years after the University used the local media and the state police to first herald unspecified accusations of “malfeasance,” the theme of racketeering remains the same — though the story continues to wax and wane, and the dollar amounts change at every turn. At first Dr. Laskar was thought to have stolen about $600,000 and then the number ballooned to nearly $2M by the time he was arrested in September 2010. Six months later at his tenure revocation hearing, the number dwindled to $50,000. All initial charges were refuted at the university hearing, and the ECE department head (now the dean of the college of engineering) confirmed under oath that Dr. Laskar and Sayana Wireless did not break any known policies or procedures. From 2011 until the present charge of more than $1M, there was no mention of money or in-kind goods or services being stolen at all.
The people “investigating” the case did in fact take their suppositions and their personal grievances against Dr. Laskar to the Internal Revenue Service prior to May 2010. Four and a half years later, the IRS exonerated Dr. Laskar. University officials also filed insurance claims in the millions after Dr. Laskar’s suspension and subsequent arrest, and these claims were denied.
To be sure, Dr. Laskar was the director of the Georgia Electronic Design Center (GEDC) at Georgia Tech. He and his post-doctoral student, in 2006, did form Sayana Wireless. Yet GT does not want to admit that Sayana was a university-incubated company, trumpeted by the University for its achievements and even placed in the national spotlight at the University’s behest. Georgia Tech also held a minority ownership position and stood to gain millions of dollars when the company was to be sold, ironically, on the day of the raids — May 17, 2010.
Yes, Sayana Wireless and GTRC enjoy a license agreement. As a University spinout and a member of the GEDC, Sayana followed all known guidelines and policies, paid licensing fees and had access to the University’s facilities, equipment and other resources. That was standard practice, and all University spinouts and GEDC members enjoyed the same access and benefits.
A week before the statute of limitations was to run out, Dr. Laskar was indicted on two counts of racketeering using a subset of the charges that were cited in securing his arrest warrant in 2010. The final “bad act” Dr. Laskar is alleged to have committed, on June 24, 2011, is new. And laughable — it alleges that he committed a crime five weeks after GT fired him, and nine months after the university barred him from his offices and labs and threatened to have him arrested for trespassing.
Whatever investigation was carried out by the GT internal auditors initially was never verified by anyone else or questioned. Open records searches have yielded these results: The original auditor who found no wrongdoing was replaced and this narrative of stealing and misappropriation was put into place by the same people to whom Dr. Laskar would go to appeal his wrongful suspension, his wrongful termination.
The real question citizens should be asking is: How can this sort of witch-hunt go on unchecked? These are taxpayer dollars being burned to ruin reputations and alter lives.
There has been a presumption of guilt from the very beginning, as if by superbly doing the jobs he was being paid to do — teaching, research, fundraising, and entrepreneurship — Dr. Laskar has committed a crime. Innuendo and office gossip do not make proof. The truth of this matter will one day come out, and it is my fervent hope that these circumstances will never again visit another innocent man or his family.