Federal officials are investigating allegations of payroll irregularities, kickbacks, and unreported equipment theft at Howard University, according to several current and former university employees interviewed for the probe. According to these sources, the interviews, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, began last fall.

The agency has a considerable stake in the university’s finances because Congress gives Howard a special annual appropriation of more than $200 million. No other university receives this kind of direct federal funding.

On the basis of six interviewees’ accounts, investigators are asking questions about a number of different university divisions, although they seem to be concentrating on Howard’s information-systems department and broadcast stations: WHUT-TV Channel 32 and WHUR-FM 96.3. In all of the interviews, investigators have asked people what they know about Hassan Minor, a Howard senior vice president and the university’s primary liaison to Congress.

Once a political ally of former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, Minor came to Howard in 1990 as special assistant to then-President Franklyn Jenifer. As senior vice president, Minor has worked on government affairs, property acquisition, and a wide array of other university operations.

Former Howard faculty member Arlene Maclin last fall received a call from a Philadelphia-based agent for the Education Department’s Office of Inspector General. The agent then traveled to Washington to interview her for two hours at the department’s headquarters.

“There was a person in particular he was interested in,” says Maclin of her interview with the inspector general’s agent—and that person was Minor. Maclin says she described for the investigator a 1991 dispute with Minor over the administration of a grant.

Maclin says she told the investigator that in 2001, when she was consulting for Howard’s Information Systems and Services Department, Interim Vice Provost and Chief Information Officer Charles W. Moore told her that $300,000 worth of network-integration cards had gone missing. (Moore did not return a call for comment.) Maclin believes that Minor’s discovery of her consulting work led to her contract not being renewed last fall.

Others interviewed say that alleged equipment theft at the television and radio stations also came up during questioning. Managers at both stations didn’t return phone calls for comment.

Another former Howard employee, who has been interviewed three times since November, says an investigator had a list of about 100 questions and estimates that a third of them revolved around Minor.

Statistician Harrichan Ramtahal, who was laid off along with nearly 400 other Howard employees in 1994, talked with investigators for about two hours in late February. Ramtahal, who worked for Minor in the Howard president’s office, says he offered investigators what he characterizes as mostly secondhand information about Minor. Ramtahal believes Minor forced him out of his job.

It is uncertain what sparked the probe, but one of the interviewees claims to have called the hot line of the education inspector general in the fall, as well as the education-appropriations subcommittees of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

The special agents who interviewees said had contacted them, Philadelphia-based Steven Purdy and Washington-based Derrick Franklin, decline to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, citing office policy. A spokesperson for the Office of Inspector General also declines to confirm or deny a Howard probe.

J.J. Pryor, a Howard spokesperson, says there was an investigation of the television station last year, but that the Department of Education concluded that there was “no wrongdoing on Howard University’s part” and that the matter was closed. She declines to comment on whether any WHUT equipment has been stolen. Nor will she comment on whether anything has been stolen from the information-systems department or the radio station.

“What I can tell you is that we’re not under investigation,” says Pryor. She says that information comes from Howard’s general counsel’s office, not from the Department of Education.

When apprised of the late-February interview between Ramtahal and a federal investigator, Pryor replies, “I think there have been some inquiries recently, but we are not under investigation.” Describing the distinction, she says: “I think ‘inquiries’ is someone asking questions and seeing if there’s something worth investigation.”

Minor’s office referred all calls to Pryor, who declines to answer questions about him. CP