Two Pinellas County scientists who have done work for agencies including NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation are now facing the possibility of prison on fraud charges.
The defendants, a polymer chemist and a molecular biologist who are married to each other, are accused of conning those agencies and others out of more than $10 million over 10 years by using stolen identities of other people and organizations to puff up their contract proposals.
An indictment unsealed Tuesday says Mahmoud Aldissi, 62, and Anastassia Bogomolova, 51, fraudulently formed corporations, Smart Polymers Research Corp. and Fractal Systems Inc., and used stolen identities of people and information about institutions and companies to bolster their ability to enter into contracts with various government agencies.
The stolen names were presented in endorsements and represented to be their employees, subcontractors and consultants, among other roles, according to the indictment.
The indictment mentions the Center for Biological Defense at the University of South Florida as a “relevant entity,” along with the University of Florida, Louisiana State University and the Universite de Limoges in France. The court document doesn’t spell out the schools’ connection with the case, though.
USF issued a statement regarding the indictment saying the universit is a victim “and is not accused of any wrongdoing or violations of law. USF has fully cooperated in the investigation leading to this indictment. USF will continue to support federal law enforcement action against identify theft, fraud and other criminal acts outlined in the indictment.”
The Center for Biological Defense is listed as collaborating on a 2004 contract Fractal Systems had with the Army to detect toxins used in biowarfare. It’s not clear whether USF worked on that $100,000 contract. USF spokeswoman Lara Wade said she had nothing to add to the prepared statement issued by the university.
Aldissi is a polymer chemist and Bogomolova is a molecular biologist, according to their attorneys, Todd Foster and Lyann Goudie, who said the Belleair Beach couple plan to vigorously fight the charges.
The indictment says the couple submitted fraudulent contract proposals to the federal government and fraudulently negotiated with the government about their proposals. The couple are also accused of submitting fraudulent invoices and using the money to “personally enrich themselves.”
The 22-page indictment detailing the charges does not say whether the couple performed the contracted work and how they were alleged to have been able to perpetrate the scheme over such a long period of time involving multiple contracts and levels of review.
“Based on my knowledge, the work that was contracted for was performed,” Foster said. “I think the theory of the indictment is that the contracts were procured by fraud.”
Foster called his client, Aldissi, “a highly credentialed expert in the field.”
Bogomolova is “incredibly credentialed and totally bewildered about the whole” indictment, Goudie said. The indictment also doesn’t specify the contracts involved in the purported fraud.
The EPA in 2010 issued a press release about a $70,000 contract awarded through its Small Business Innovation Research Program to Smart Polymers Research Corp. for biothreat sensor research. And in 2011, the agency announced it had awarded the company a $70,000 contract for something called a “quantum dot/aptamer real-time flow sensor.”
The Department of Defense awarded the company a $99,000 contract in 2009 for “uncooled infared detectors based on bio inspired materials.”
Government contracts awarded to Fractal Systems Inc. include a $100,000 agreement with NASA for a system designed to generate potable water aboard spacecrafts and $70,000 for ultrathin films based on conducting polymers for gas sensors.
According to the U.S. Patent Office, Aldissi holds a number of patents on inventions on things like water-soluble conductive polymers. His wife writes a blog on polymersolutions.com on topics including smart polymer nanofibers for drug delivery and solar power in the air and on the road.
Both defendants are naturalized U.S. citizens, according to their lawyers, with Aldissi from the Middle East and Bogomolova from Russia. They have been married 15 years and have an 11-year-old son.
If convicted on all counts, each could face up to maximum of 20 years in federal prison.