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Alabama State trustee named in auditor's report wants governor to investigate other universities
Alabama State University Trustee Marvin Wiggins, left, wants the governor's office to conduct a forensic audit of all other public colleges in Alabama. Also pictured is ASU Board of Trustees Chairman Elton Dean. (Evan Belanger/Alabama Media Group)
-- An Alabama State University trustee, who was accused of using his position to obtain financial benefit for his relatives, wants the governor's office to investigate other universities.
Trustee Marvin Wiggins said this week he was serious about his request to the governor that "all universities be treated like Alabama State and be audited like Alabama State."
"Let's see what he does at the other universities when it relates to people who are not African American and see whether he takes the same kind of interest," Wiggins said this week.
Wiggins made the request in an exchange with Gov. Robert Bentley during a board of trustees meeting last week:
Wiggins: "Are all universities going to be subject to the same scrutiny in auditing that Alabama State is?"
Bentley: "If it's brought up. If I have from any president in the state of Alabama or if I have from anyone in the state of Alabama something that's brought to my attention, we will investigate it."
Wiggins: "I want to go on record and request that all universities be treated like Alabama State and be audited like Alabama State."
(Bentley did not reply.)
Bentley launched an investigation into ASU in December, hiring Forensic Strategic Solutions of Birmingham at a maximum cost of 0,000, to follow up on allegations from the university's former president.
A preliminary report from that auditor released last month by the governor's office alleged Wiggins, Board of Trustees Chairman Elton Dean, and former Trustee Lawrence "Larry" Lemak all had relatives who improperly received thousands of dollars from the university.
It also alleged ASU had attempted to thwart the investigation by failing to provide or delaying the provision of public records and that ASU had wasted more than million on a Medicaid contract that the state agency refused to repay.
Questioned about Wiggins' request, a spokeswoman for Bentley's office said they have not launched an investigation into and any other universities and the ASU investigation was not launched "on a whim."
"Dr. Silver, as a sitting president, brought his concerns to the governor last year, and as president of the ASU board of trustees, the governor had an obligation to look into the matter of one of Alabama's public universities," said Jennifer Ardis, Bentley's press secretary.
Ardis went on to say that Bentley would do the same for any other university president, but no one has made similar claims to date.
Wiggins responded that "just because nobody is complaining, doesn't mean nothing is wrong." He also predicted a forensic audit of other universities would reveal relatives of board members in their employ.
"I think you're going to find some of the same things, not that it's wrong, not that it's unethical, not that it's illegal, but the same thing is going on at other universities," he said.
In a high profile example, ASU officials have pointed to the hiring of former Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Alabama, at the University of Alabama, when his sister, Judy Bonner, serves as university president.
In response to allegations of nepotism, Bonner said in September that . That's the same thing Wiggins and Dean said about university contracts and jobs obtained by their relatives.
State law does not bar the relatives of university trustees from working for the schools, but it does bar them from using their positions and influence to help obtain work for relatives.
But David Byrne, Bentley's chief legal adviser, said last week that simply abstaining from the vote to hire Crawford may not have been enough. He noted noted that Crawford had been disbarred in North Carolina for taking money from client funds eight times, that she was hired to teach business law at ASU, and that she listed Wiggins as a reference.
"We respectfully suggest that more is required," he said.
Wiggins questioned Bentley's interest in Alabama State over other public universities this week.
"He sends two lawyers to every meeting we've had since the audit has been going on," he said. "What's going on with us at Alabama State that he takes such an interest, that he puts us under this type of scrutiny and this type of criticism?"
He also said the governor knowingly released accusations that were untrue and that the investigation would show all of Silver's allegations were without merit.
"We know why President Silver complained," he said. "If you want to make things fair and invest this kind of money, let's look at every university across the board."
Silver alleged publicly he had been curbed by the board for questioning suspicious contracts. In December, the board approved a measure to pay Silver 5,000 to resign after just 13 weeks on the job.
That agreement bars the parties from stating the reason for Silver's departure.
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