1.18.19 Update: Read Bryan Cave investigative Report. Check back for updates.
A lawyer is alleging that a cover-up in the Colbourn Hall controversy is being orchestrated by somebody at UCF, according to a detailed, 12-page letter sent to Florida’s Board of Governors Monday.
UCF “concealed” public records that “seem to contradict” UCF’s representations to the BOG that neither the current president nor board of trustees chairman knew that the improper pool of “E&G Carry Forward funds were being used to fund the Trevor Colbourn Hall project,” according to the letter sent by attorney Charles M. Greene.
Greene represents former UCF CFO William Merck, who UCF said was responsible for the improper spending during that Sept. 13 BOG meeting, called after a state audit exposed the improper funding source. Greene also represents “several” other persons “affected by the ongoing investigation,” the letter states.
Evidence shows Merck did not act alone in spending the funds intended for research, operating, and maintenance, to instead fund new construction, according to the letter.
The letter alleges UCF President Dale Whittaker, who worked at UCF as provost previously, was “instrumental in the decision” to use the funds from the pool not meant for new building construction.
The letter questions whether UCF BOT Chair Marcos Marchena was “less than candid” with the Board of Governors when Marchena claimed UCF “Trustees asked the right questions but were ‘misled'” when explaining UCF’s actions at the BOG meeting.
“Bear in mind that before he became chair of UCF’s Board of Trustees, Marchena was chair of UCF’s Finance and Facilities Committee, which was presented with detailed information concerning the capital projects that were ongoing at UCF, including the Trevor Colbourn Hall project,” the letter states.
Later, the letter questions why “Marchena, who clearly had enough information to at least ask more questions and had the obligation to provide guidance and oversight” did not object or advise UCF leadership “that the funds should not be used” for construction purposes.
“Every significant person within the UCF hiearcy — including the President, various Vice Presidents, the Provost, and UCF’s General Counsel — were expressly advised and/or presented with information which clearly showed E&G Carry Forward was used to fund the construction of Trevor Colbourn Hall,” the letter states.
In a statement released late Monday night, UCF said:
“The UCF Board of Trustees hired an independent, third-party law firm to conduct a thorough investigation and forensic audit. All of the information and records have been shared with the Florida Board of Governors’ inspector general. Bill Merck refused to participate in this process. We look forward to the comprehensive report being completed soon.”
The letter also raises serious questions of whether UCF broke the public record law yet again.
Greene references emails that “were concealed by UCF and not produced” in response to public records requests that “clearly encompassed these obviously public records,” the letter said.
UCF has a history of problems with regard to public records and transparency. For instance, a judge ruled UCF violated the public record law multiple times in open government lawsuits brought by Knight News. Transparency concerns were also raised during UCF’s recent presidential search.
In the Colbourn Hall controversy, Greene felt that the Board of Governors would not reach a fair conclusion based solely the information that UCF gave firsthand.
According to Greene’s letter, Whittaker and Marchena went on to avoid responsibility for the misused funds and continued to allow blame to be placed on Merck at the Sept. 13 BOG meeting in Sarasota, FL. The pair have held their ground on who was responsible for the mishap.
“My position has never changed: I trusted our former CFO to advise the president and our Board of Trustees about the appropriate use of funds.” Whittaker said in a December statement. “As provost, I was responsible for the academic planning of the building; the CFO was responsible for the funding.”
Marchena concurred by saying “[a]t no time were the Trustees collectively, or me as Chairman, apprised that there was anything inappropriate about the use of the funding source for this project.”
The 12-page letter seeks to overthrow the initial storyline by presenting Greene’s findings and pages of records to the Board of Governors.
“With respect to Whittaker, the documents discussed below clearly show he knew about the use of E&G Carry Forward for Trevor Colbourn Hall, was instrumental in the decision to use E&G Carry Forward, and even gave presentations to the Trustees and President Hitt about the source of funding for the project,” Greene said.
“With respect to Marchena, an objective person reviewing the following documents could reasonably conclude that he either knew E&G Carry Forward was being used to fund Trevor Colbourn Hall or put his hands over his eyes and ears so that he did not read/hear what he was being shown and told,” the letter states.
Knight News has also obtained some of those allegedly “concealed” emails from a source outside of UCF, and is reviewing them.
Check back for further updates.
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