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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

SA Scandal: There's No App For That

The Spectrum investigates Virtual Academix, possible corruption, and SA's missing treasurer

Student Association Treasurer Sikander Khan and Vice President Meghan McMonagle almost spent $300,000 of student money on a mobile application, but President JoAnna Datz stopped them.

It's a good thing she did. Virtual Academix, the company trying to sell the app, has been engulfed in mystery and question marks since its inception.

Datz released a 100-page internal document chronicling how SA almost got duped and submitted it to police sometime in March. The District Attorney's office investigated the case, Khan, and McMonagle, but uncovered no criminal conduct, according to a memo released by University Police.

However, since the report was released, Virtual Academix has seemingly disappeared. Despite numerous efforts by The Spectrum to reach the founder or a spokesperson, no one at the company has answered reporters' questions. In fact, the more The Spectrum probes, the more those responsible vanish or decline to comment.

The case - which began as a secretive SA deal - has expanded beyond UB and now includes three UB alums, including a former Student Association president. It has also revealed the great schism that currently exists among the top three SA officials.

The three oversee $3.6 million in student money, but haven't spoken in weeks and can barely stand to be in the same room with each other.

Khan, like the company in question, has vanished. He has not been in his office since at least April 5 and has not been available to the clubs to perform his duties, which include signing off on checks. He's turned off his phone and been absent from class.

McMonagle physically turned her back on two Spectrum reporters who went to the SA office on Monday to ask for comment. She has not returned emails and failed to show up for a scheduled interview on Saturday.

Datz, who's been the most forthcoming, spoke to The Spectrum but wouldn't comment on the specific actions of Khan and McMonagle.

Many students around campus are wondering what is going on.

Here's what happened:

a On Feb. 12, Khan convinced the SA Senate to approve a transfer of $300,000 from a cash and investments line to a projects line in SA's budget.

a Khan then conducted market research and a vendor search for companies that offer mobile application technology. Khan spoke about the app and the vendors in an interview with The Spectrum on March 26.

a On Jan. 31, Virtual Academix Vice President of Corporate Development Ted Miale, a former UB student, reached out to Datz and Khan to set up a meeting to present a plan for an app.

a The meeting took place on Feb. 3, and Datz decided she didn't want to pursue the app. Khan persisted. Datz said she thought he was pursuing it for the coming year since, at the time, he was considering running for re-election. He didn't.

a A little over a month later, on March 13, Khan and McMonagle signed a contract with Virtual Academix for $297,500 that would get SA an app and five years of maintenance service. An SA investigation determined that the price far exceeded fair market value for such a product, which lies between $50,000 and $150,000 prior to negotiation.

By the time the SA investigation was released, The Spectrum had already launched an investigation of its own.

Investigating Virtual Academix

Everyone with connections to Virtual Academix is hiding. They've either lawyered up or remain unreachable, much like Khan and McMonagle.

Everyone, that is, except Miale, the former UB student who served as the company's vice president. But he did try to hide.

On Saturday, The Spectrum reached out to him on Facebook and LinkedIn. By Monday morning, he had deleted or hidden both profiles and became a virtual ghost. The Spectrum then contacted his full-time employer - Linium.

Linium Managing Partner Joe Burke left a voice message for The Spectrum Monday afternoon, saying,"[Linium doesn't] have any knowledge of the situation or what is going on. This is a personal matter that Ted is involved with. This isn't even the kind of work we do as a consulting firm...Linium is not involved, engaged, or endorsing this work Ted is doing."

Once his boss was contacted, Miale agreed to speak to The Spectrum. He claimed he wasn't affiliated with Virtual Academix and was simply "doing a favor for a friend" by giving the presentation to SA. He actually wasn't informed about what he'd be presenting until the morning of the meeting, he told The Spectrum, even though he represented himself to SA as Vice President of Corporate Development.

He claimed he didn't know anyone involved with the company other than "his friend," whose name he would not reveal. He also wouldn't disclose names or contact information for anyone in the company.

On Saturday afternoon, The Spectrum called the phone number on the contact page of Virtual Academix's website. It went to a Google voicemail message. The person on the message introduced himself at the beginning of the message and his last name was Hussain. The first name was garbled. The message has since been changed, so The Spectrum hasn't been able to confirm the first name.

The SA report says Khan presented two outside bids for the app to Tom Tiberi, UB interim director of student life, on March 30 to show a competitive bidding process. One of those bids was from a company called AB&T Technologies, based in Santa Monica, Calif. A search into the founder of the company - Lucy Zachtchirinskaia - revealed her to be friends with Mohammad Viqar Hussain on Facebook.

Hussain appears to be the founder of Accel Mobile, a company that offers the same services as Virtual Academix. On Saturday, he was listed as the company's founder, but since Saturday, his name has been removed. However, the company's Twitter account is linked to him. Hussain, SA president in 2006-07, has also served as president of UB's Muslim Student Association, which Khan was the president of last year.

A former high-ranking SA official was at UB when Hussain was president. She spoke on condition of anonymity because of the working relationship she still has and hopes to maintain with current and past SA members.

"Viqar was a president in a long line of corrupt SA presidents," the source said. "It's commonly known that some SA presidents use the Student Association as a personal piggy bank. It's been going on in recent history and it's continuing, and I feel this incident is just another example...It seems like with everything [Hussain] does, there is some sort of financial kickback he's hoping to get."

Additionally, a source close to Khan who wished to remain unidentified, said one of Hussain's brothers has spent time studying with Khan in the SA office. The source said the two are close friends.

Miale said he worked with two other men, though he wouldn't reveal their names. He said one was from Harvard.

Hussain's LinkedIn profile lists him as a NASA Study Research Coordinator at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass., the same city where Virtual Academix's headquarters is located. It also says he's a Harvard student, but that information could not be confirmed. Both former SA officials said he often lied about going to Harvard and had obtained a Harvard email address while working there at one point.

The first former SA official wasn't surprised to hear Hussain's name involved in scandal, and she even said it's not the first time it's happened.

"When Viqar Hussain was president, he actually purchased a fleet of vehicles that SA is currently using, and they bought the vehicles through his uncle," the source said. "They made a significant profit off of every single one of the vehicles that were purchased, because the uncle boosted the price and gave the extra profit to Viqar."

Miale began to put things together, and the tone of his voice changed from one of anger to apprehension in an instant during a phone interview on Monday night.

"This is really getting to be a lot more than I want to be associated with," Miale said. "...All I know is I helped out a friend. I can get investigated left, right, and center. I don't know anyone in the SA, never knew anyone in the SA before I met them. I can prove that. You can investigate my phone records, my emails. I don't have any ties to those people."

The SA report includes numerous emails between Miale, Khan, and Datz, both before and after the meeting - when asked about this, Miale continued to deny any contact.

At about 4 p.m. on Tuesday and after four days without any success of contacting actual members of Virtual Academix (Miale claims he wasn't working for the company despite representing himself as a vice president to SA), a lawyer named Lynne Blank contacted The Spectrum and said she had been retained by Virtual Academix.

She said the owner of the company is Omar Abadan. The SA report says Virtual Academix is an "assumed name" for Abadan, Inc. - a Hornell, N.Y.-based company.

The Spectrum, unable to find any information on "Abadan" or his company, sent two reporters to Hornell, about104 miles south of Buffalo, to visit the address the company listed in the SA report. Nobody was home, but the reporters talked to a neighbor, Travis Waight.

Waight said the man who lives at the Abadan address - 476 McKinley Ave., North Hornell, N.Y. 14843 - is named Irfan Mehr. Waight said he was not aware of an Abadan, Virtual Academix, or any other company at the residence.

After a quick search into Mehr, The Spectrum found a news report linking him to his son, Omar Mehr.

Omar Mehr appears to be the same person as Omar Abadan - the name given by Blank as the owner of Abadan and Virtual Academix. Omar Mehr/Abadan is also a UB graduate who graduated the same year as Hussain.

The Spectrumgot Omar Mehr on the phone and asked him if he was the founder of Abadan and Virtual Academix. He said he had "no comment" and before any other questions could be asked, he abruptly said he had hired a lawyer who would be speaking for him.

At press time, The Spectrum was researching Mehr and his possible association to SA and/or MSA.

There will be an informal meeting held by SA in the Student Union Theater at 6 p.m. on Wednesday night. The organization will field questions pertaining to the investigation.

Stay with The Spectrum for more coverage.

Additional Reporting by Senior News Editor Luke Hammill, Asst. News Editor Sara DiNatale, Senior Sports Editor Tyler Cady, and Staff Writer Lisa Epstein




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