By Denise-Marie Balona, Orlando Sentinel
9:36 PM EDT, May 26, 2012
Last summer, state education leaders told Florida A&M University about complaints involving "fraudulent" audits submitted by the school — "executive summaries" for internal financial reviews that, in fact, had not been done.
In November, an investigation by a Tallahassee law firm found that FAMU's vice president for audit and compliance, Charles O'Duor, knowingly misled the State University System as well as FAMU's board of trustees about more than a dozen audits, according to public records.
Now, as trustees wait for new audits to be completed by an outside accountant, FAMU administrators face more questions about their management controls.
In the aftermath of the killing of drum major Robert Champion following the Florida Classic in Orlando, school trustees learned that as many as 100 members of the school's marching band were ineligible. The university spent thousands of dollars to transport and feed about 60 of those musicians that the administration has since acknowledged were not qualified but still were allowed to perform at the football game Nov. 19.
At least two of those ineligible band members are among the 11 charged with felony hazing in connection with Champion's beating death that night.
The university has not responded to questions from the Orlando Sentinel about whether ineligible players were allowed to go on other band trips last fall, or in previous years.
State Sen. David Simmons said he is "very concerned" about what he sees as a chronic problem with financial management and ethical lapses at FAMU. He called for an outside group of experts to investigate the entire institution and report back to Gov. Rick Scott, the university system's Board of Governors and the Legislature.
Meanwhile, the president of the agency that accredits FAMU, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, said SACS-COC will be contacting university administrators within days to ask for more details about how they are handling the hazing scandal.
"Is this frustrating for the Legislature to see and hear about? Absolutely," said Simmons, a Republican from Maitland who serves on the Senate committee that oversees higher-education spending.
"We're spending and investing a tremendous amount in FAMU, and we have the right, as citizens of the state of Florida, to a concomitant assurance that the money is being spent wisely and honestly."
Five of the faulty audits at FAMU, which came to light through two whistle-blower complaints in July, were connected at least in part to the band that has helped bring millions of dollars to FAMU through performances at events such as the Classic, according to a scathing investigative report from the law firm of Sniffen & Spellman.
O'Duor had presented 15 audit reports to trustees. The vast majority were either incomplete or did not show evidence to support their conclusions, the investigation found.
Sniffen & Spellman wrote that its review "generally found for each of the reports … an absolute paucity of adequate and appropriate working papers prepared in accordance with applicable external standards" and in accordance with the FAMU audit department's own charter and operating procedures.
Thirteen reports, including five focusing on revenue from athletic events, were sent to the Board of Governors, which oversees Florida's public universities.
O'Duor was allowed to resign Nov. 11. One of his employees was fired.
The university is holding off on any employee disciplinary action related to problems within the band until the Florida Department of Law Enforcement completes an ongoing review of FAMU's band finances, said Solomon Badger, chairman of the board of trustees.
"The board will act on the facts presented to it that are conclusive and not attached to anything that would interfere with any investigation outside the university now," Badger said.
Julian White, the band's longtime director who retired earlier this month amid the controversy over Champion's hazing death, has acknowledged some responsibility for allowing ineligible people into the band. FAMU President James Ammons, however, has told trustees that at least one other faculty member in the music department should have been checking, too.
The university has had a history of financial problems, although a review by the state Auditor General's Office of its basic financial statements in 2010-11 found no serious "deficiencies." The office is currently conducting a routine audit of the university's operations.
In 2003, its books were off by $1.8 million. That and other problems prompted the state to cut off pay to top administrators until they turned over financial records.
By 2007 —the year Ammons was brought in to turn the school around and O'Duor was hired — legislators were calling for a criminal investigation into continued financial problems. FAMU's accreditation was put on probation.
State Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, called the school's problems with ineligible band members, as well as the faulty audits, "outrageous and unacceptable."
He added that if the allegations coming forth now prove true, the school's senior administration might need to change in order to "clean up the mess."
"You and I both know it's not just one person guilty of that incompetence — it's multiple people," said Hays, who serves with Simmons on the Senate Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
SACS-COC President Belle Wheelan said Thursday that she expected the accrediting agency to contact FAMU within 10 days to inquire about its hazing troubles.
FAMU's faulty audits and controversy over band spending also are "something that would concern us," Wheelan said.
Both Hays and Simmons, as well as some trustees, say they are eager to know more about money spent on ineligible band members.
The university spent $3,500 for each of the nine charter buses used to transport the band and FAMU cheerleaders from Tallahassee to Orlando for the Classic, school records show. Each bus holds 56 people.
Each passenger — including about 60 people who were not qualified to be in the band in mid-November — was given a per diem payment of $78 to cover food expenses the weekend of the Classic.
FAMU has not responded to questions from the Sentinel in recent weeks about whether the university also paid the hotel expenses for individuals not meeting eligibility requirements. If so, FAMU potentially could have spent thousands of dollars more, even if three to four band members were assigned to each room, according to the Sentinel's calculations.
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