Bowie State fund-raiser faces sanctions Chairman of regents says 'we have to take action' on misspending

August 06, 1998|By Ivan Penn and Tom Pelton | Ivan Penn and Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

A top University System of Maryland official said he plans to take action against Bowie State University's fund-raising organization for spending at least $100,000 in scholarship and campus activity money on expenses that include a boat cruise, furniture and questionable consulting contracts.

Lance Billingsley, chairman of the university system board of regents, said the board would consider sanctions against the Bowie State University Foundation and those who "were involved in the dealings" when it meets Aug. 28.

In addition, the university system is preparing to release results of its investigation into finances at the Bowie foundation. University officials and a state lawmaker have raised new questions about some of the foundation's consulting contracts, which include a $12,000 deal with a former state delegate who is the son of the foundation's treasurer.

"There have been some financial dealings that are not in keeping with the purpose of the foundation," Billingsley said.

"We're going to have to take some action."

One possibility, Billingsley said, would be to close all the individual foundations operating at each state university and to fold them into one foundation serving the whole system.

"This problem with affiliated foundations has been troubling me since I became chairman," said Billingsley, who has run the board of regents since 1995.

But he also said he would move against individuals who were involved in any misspending of foundation money.

In the midst of the financial mess, foundation officials have been pointing fingers at Bowie State University President Nathanael Pollard Jr. and his staff.

Pollard, in turn, blames his former chief fund-raiser -- one of three university employees he has removed from foundation posts since January.

'He runs it'

Ira Moss, chairman of the foundation's board and a Prince George's County chemical company owner, said Pollard is responsible for the foundation.

"I don't run it. He runs it. He runs it on a day-to-day basis. It's his employees who handle the books," Moss said.

"I don't even know what goes on over there at the university most of the time. I'm just a volunteer."

Pollard refused repeated requests for an interview this week. When he was approached by a reporter at his office he declined to respond to questions.

On Tuesday, Pollard said through his spokesman, John H. Britton, that he would respond to written questions by the close of business yesterday.

However, he failed to do so.

In May, the university system's internal auditor launched a probe of the nonprofit foundation after The Sun reported that thousands of dollars had been misspent and the university administrator chosen to rectify problems, Russell A. Davis, had a history of writing bad checks and had wrongly taken $3,873 from another campus-connected nonprofit group.

Draft report delivered

System auditors delivered a draft of their report to the regents' audit committee about three weeks ago.

Committee members expect to finish reviewing it by early next week, said Michael C. Gelman, the committee's chairman.

Gelman and Billingsley declined to discuss details of the report before completion of the committee review.

But interviews with university officials and documents obtained by The Sun show how the foundation spent some of the money it raised to use exclusively for scholarships and campus activities.

Boat trip on Potomac

Among the expenditures:

About $3,356 went for an Odyssey Cruises boat trip on the Potomac River in 1997, a university official said. Foundation officials say the trip was meant to entertain potential donors, though few donors actually attended, according to a university official who reviewed the report. Foundation rules prohibit the use of scholarship money for such expenditures.

The foundation in July 1997 signed a five-year contract worth $12,650 for four season tickets to see the Washington Redskins at the new Jack Kent Cooke Stadium. Foundation board members used last season's tickets, but neither the foundation nor the board members paid the bill, according to university officials.

John Lippincott, spokesman for the university system, said the Redskins have forgiven the debt for the remaining four seasons of the contract, but the team is demanding payment for last season's tickets. The foundation has agreed to make the payment when it is able, he said.

Last October, the foundation bought $41,000 in furniture for the offices of the university's top fund-raiser and his staff, according university officials.

The foundation also spent at least $24,000 on questionable consulting contracts, including a deal with former state Del. Michael Arrington, a lobbyist and son of the foundation's treasurer, Henry T. "Hank" Arrington, who signs the organization's checks.

The younger Arrington was hired to "perform consulting services for the 1997 legislative session for a fee of $12,000," according to university records.

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