Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
The state Attorney General’s Office is not at all pleased with the University of New Mexico’s handling of and continued secrecy involving the school’s recent investigations into the school’s athletic department.
UNM has never commented specifically about whether Lobos football coach Bob Davie is a target of the investigation, and the coach, who just completed his sixth season, has not denied being the focus of the inquiry. According to an unsubstantiated report from independent journalist Daniel Libit in September, the investigation was looking into allegations of mistreatment of football players. Davie had said then that during the football season was not the appropriate time to comment on the investigation, but that he would do so at a later date.
UNM hired retired federal Judge Bruce Black to conduct an investigation, which he did, and reported his findings orally to university leadership. According to Black’s contract, he was asked to investigate “1) permissible coaching techniques and 2) enforcement of department rules regarding use of illegal drugs and drug testing.”
The university now plans a second investigation, but what that means is unclear.
“I’m very concerned the university has been aware of our ongoing criminal investigation for several months, yet the administration is using taxpayer dollars to secretly look into matters rather than properly forwarding those allegations and concerns to our criminal investigators in a timely manner,” said Attorney General Hector Balderas, whose office has been conducting its own probe of UNM athletics since May.
UNM has retained the Chicago-based law firm of Hogan, Marren, Babbo & Rose to start its second investigation, but the “Engagement Letter” signed by UNM and the firm does not name Davie nor say the firm is engaging in an investigation of any sort, only that it will “provide legal advice and counsel to UNM in the connection with compliance matters involving federal and state laws and UNM policies and procedures.”
The contract states the firm can charge $500 per hour up to $60,000, not including travel and other expenses.
Under the terms of Black’s contract, few public records exist as much of the matter was handled orally, and so documents that could have been subject to public inspection were not created.
That is what prompted the AG’s Office on Friday to send a letter, obtained by the Journal, to UNM interim President Chaouki Abdallah, asking to meet with him in person and calling into question the use of public funds for an investigation that is now “unreviewable by oversight entities – such as the Board of Regents, the New Mexico Legislature, and our office – and unusable by the next university President, who will be responsible for resolving many of these issues.”
In the letter, Deputy Attorney General Sharon Pino noted Lobo athletics has “operated under a cloud of suspicion” since reports of potential financial mismanagement led to a special audit, an ongoing AG’s Office investigation and recent Journal reporting that showed a former athletic director instructed employees to delete emails. The letter states that the office wants to meet with Abdallah to “establish parameters for (UNM’s) cooperation and participation in our review.”
Abdallah, who did not see the AG’s Office letter until Saturday, sent a formal response on Sunday and gave a copy to the Journal.
“The AG’s letter assumes that the matter for which Judge Black was contracted is related to the financial issues previously addressed by the State Auditor,” Abdallah wrote. “It is not. It is a separate inquiry dealing with different issues. …
“As we publicly stated two weeks ago, upon the conclusion of Judge Black’s review, the university is continuing to evaluate processes, procedures, and the overall culture of the Athletics Department, and the broader UNM campus, to ensure best business, management, and human relations practices. We also previously stated the initial review has prompted us to look at a few discrete matters.”
He added that the way the matter is being handled is, at least in part, to ensure “those who are being asked to participate … can be candid and cooperative.” He also said the Board of Regents has been briefed on Black’s investigation.
But Pino’s letter states, “In light of the pervasive issues facing UNM Athletics, the decision to procure investigative services and to do so without a written report is troubling, to say the least.”
Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office is continuing an investigation into possible violation of the state’s anti-donation clause stemming from a 2015 fundraising golf trip to Scotland that used public funds to pay for private donors. Friday’s letter also referenced the recent special audit “which found a number of financial issues, including misuse of public funds and use of donor funds contrary to donor intent” and “raised questions regarding the relationships between and flow of funds through UNM Athletics, the UNM Foundation and the Lobo Club.”
Abdallah noted of the recent Office of the State Auditor’s findings: “While the audit identified areas needing structural and reporting improvement, I am pleased that no fraud or crime was detected. The few transactions cited largely involve areas where corrective actions are already underway.”