A high-ranking UCF administrator — who previously helped negotiate Aramark’s takeover of the Student Union — has resigned after allegations arose that he improperly influenced contracting processes after receiving gifts from vendors.
Curt Sawyer, the former Associate Vice-President of University Services, resigned from his position in March, a week after a report was sent by Rhonda Bishop, the Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer, to William Merck, the Executive Vice-President For Administration and Finance. An initial report was filed in January of 2017, claiming that Sawyer had solicited gifts from university vendors, according to the report by the University Compliance, Ethics and Risks Office.
According to the report sent to Merck, Sawyer solicited gifts from vendors — and encouraged his employees to as well — for the Inter-Institutional Committee of Auxiliary Services and Administrators conference in 2016. Previously In 2014, Sawyer was accused of violating state ethics code for public employees, and was required to undergo “one-on-one” training with UCER on ethics law, according to the report.
“Despite the 2014 UA investigation findings and subsequent training delivered by UCER, Mr. Sawyer has continued to accept and solicit complimentary meals, beverages, and other gifts from university vendors,” the report reads.
In January of 2017, after a conference, UCER investivaged reports that Sawyer “solicited or directed his staff members to solicit meals and other gifts for ICASA attendees, including himself, from Aramark, Coca-Cola, Staples, Barnes & Noble, Gilly Vending and Which Wich,” according to the report.
At the time of the ICASA conference, UCF was in active contract negotiations with Aramark, Coca-Cola, and Staples, which Sawyer was overseeing, according to the report.
Employees interviewed during the investigation told UCER that multiple times during the planning of the conference they asked Sawyer if they should seek advice on whether they should be soliciting donations from vendors, but Sawyer told them repeatedly that there wasn’t any reason to seek advice and that receiving donations from vendors for the conference was an “accepted and long‐standing practice,” according to the report.
The items solicited from vendors for the conference included spirit tastings and tapas, margarita gift-sets for attendees, Barnes & Noble gift cards and umbrellas, Blue Man Group tickets, padfolios and boxed lunches, according to the report.
When asked about these solicitations, Sawyer said multiple times that these were standard practices for the conference, and “argued that the gifts were not personal and that this was an acceptable business practice. He further stated that UCER’s view, if correct, would have significant implications on the entire [State University System],” according to the report.
Besides the ICASA conference, it was reported that Sawyer had accepted gifts from other vendors. When questioned about additional gifts, Sawyer “emphatically” denied he had received any lunches or items from vendors, due to the training he had received in 2014. However when further questioned, he did admit to sometimes allowing vendors to pay for him, the report said.
Sawyer also accepted a pullover jacket and tickets for him and his family to attend an Orlando City Stadium game, provided to him by Spectra Venue Management, according to the report.
After Sawyer attended the game, UCF posted an intent to offer a contract to Spectra for concessions — a position held by Centerplate for ten years. Centerplate filed a complaint, and the judge in the hearing ruled in favor of Centerplate, according to the report.
“The judge cited a number of reasons including Mr. Sawyer’s insistence on involving Mr. Hixenbaugh in the concessions ITN development meetings. The September 2017 outcome ruling against UCF demonstrates the risks associated with Mr. Sawyer’s continued disregard for the state’s ethics laws and UCF’s procurement requirements,” the report reads.
This is an ongoing story and more updates will posted soon.