Alabama State audit sparks heated response

Published 10:20pm Monday, October 14, 2013

By Bob Johnson

Associated Press Writer

 

MONTGOMERY — Gov. Robert Bentley said he asked the Alabama State University Board of Trustees to temporarily halt a search for a new president until he and the board can discuss the preliminary findings of an audit of the board’s activities.

Bentley said in a letter to the board that preliminary findings by the forensic auditing firm Forensic Strategic Solutions contain “very serious” information that merit full attention. The governor said the review he commissioned was based partly on information he received from former ASU president Joseph Silver, who resigned under pressure last year.

The governor said his purpose in asking that the presidential search be temporarily halted was to make sure the university finds the best president possible.

“I believe we can all agree the next president of ASU must be well qualified as a leader, with financial acumen, strong ethics and a record of academic achievement,” Bentley said.

Bentley’s office said the preliminary results of the audit were being turned over to the attorney general and the U.S. attorney’s offices.

ASU attorney U.W. Clemon said in a statement that the governor’s office had pledged earlier that ASU officials would be allowed to review the preliminary findings before their release. But he said that didn’t happen.

The report alleges conflicts of interest and names trustees Marvin Wiggins and Elton Dean and one former trustee.

In his statement, Clemon denied there were any conflicts of interest.

“The alleged conflicts of interest were declared by a firm that was hand-picked by the governor without a bid and was paid for by funds under his control,” the statement from Clemon, a retired U.S. district judge, added.

Dean and Wiggins both denied allegations of conflicts of interest.

“I absolutely and categorically deny the baseless allegations made today about me. We worked with this governor in good faith, and today he betrayed us and released a report that he knows is wrong,” said Dean, chairman of the board of trustees. “I can assure all those in the university family that we will not lie down and allow any governor to take over ASU.”

Wiggins accused Bentley of trying to control ASU.

“Our university has gained everything we have through struggles and fights for decades, and if a fight is what Governor Bentley wants, he will certainly get it,” Wiggins said.

In its preliminary report the auditors said they were hampered by Alabama State not providing them with timely and reasonable access to documents, individuals and other information.

The report also said ASU failed to produce certain critical documents.

The report concluded that the preliminary investigation found that additional fraud investigation needs to be conducted. The report stated that investigators “identified multiple contracts and payments to persons who provided limited or no services to ASU and payments to persons that constituted a conflict of interest.”

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