Former UNC professor at center of scandal cleared on felony charge

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

Julius Nyang'oro, the former UNC professor at the center of the academic fraud case that's been exposed for three years at the school, got a win on Thursday.

Nyang'oro was facing a felony charge of "obtaining property by false pretenses" from the state, but that charge was dismissed, according to multiple reports. Orange County DA Jim Woodall released the verdict, giving Nyang'oro relief from any local prosecution. Nyang'oro reportedly has been helping authorities in other investigations; this involvement reportedly led to his release from prosecution in his primary case.

His reputation remains stained, however. Nyang'oro, who resigned from UNC in 2011, is tied to phony courses and grades in the Afro and African-American (AFAM) Studies department at UNC. Many former football and basketball players took supposed no-show classes. Nyang'oro was the head of AFAM department for almost a decade and a half. Reports and allegations have shown Nyang'oro was party to nefarious grade-giving, and emails uncovered have shown he was a beneficiary to perks at UNC athletic events, like watching football games from the sideline.

In recent months, Nyang'oro is reported to have spoken multiple times with Kenneth Wainstein, a former federal prosecutor who is now conducting an independent investigation into UNC's academic improprieties. Earlier this week, the school announced the NCAA would also be re-opening its case at the school on the grounds of potential new evidence provided by those who previously opted not to speak to the NCAA.

From the Raleigh News & Observer:

"Nyang'oro has been interviewed on several occasions by Mr. Wainstein and his staff and has agreed to continue cooperating as needed," Woodall said.

Wainstein's investigation, which is expected to be finished in the fall, likely will play a significant role in the NCAA's second investigation into academic misconduct at UNC. ... Woodall said in an interview that he decided to drop the charge to help Wainstein dig into the scandal. Woodall said even if he succeeded in convicting Nyang'oro of the felony charge, it would likely result in unsupervised probation, and very little insight as to how the scandal began and why it continued.

"The only way you are going to come close to getting to the bottom of it is by getting Nyang'oro, who very clearly is a major player, to talk about it in a way that he explains the nuts and bolts of what was occurring," Woodall said. "That was never going to happen in a criminal trial."

The charge the 59-year-old Nyang'oro was facing was over $12,000 he received three years ago for a class -- AFAM 280: Blacks in North Carolina -- that he was found to have never taught. Nyang'oro was charged for this last year. And though he's never spoken publicly about the scandal, he has been talking plenty with Wainstein.

Via WRAL:

Wainstein has interviewed Nyang'oro "four times, for many, many hours," Woodall told WRAL.

"He has met with us on multiple occasions, he has answered all of our questions regarding the academic and athletic dimensions of the irregular courses offered in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, and he has provided important insights and information we would otherwise not have received," Wainstein said in a statement Thursday.

News around North Carolina has been especially busy this week. The NCAA's second foray into the grade-fraud charges was the first big event. But the school is also embroiled in a lawsuit involving former employee/tutor Mary Willingham, who blew the whistle on the scandal at UNC and is asking for her job back in addition to financial restitution.

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