Scholarship fund audit worrisome

S.C. State defeated Bethune-Cookman in the 2008 Lowcountry Classic at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

An internal audit of South Carolina State University's annual scholarship fundraising event contains disturbing findings, including just one scholarship awarded in the past three years and nearly $300,000 in pledges unaccounted for.

But Maurice Washington, chairman of the football fundraiser's coordinating committee, said Thursday the audit report is incomplete; he can account for the alleged missing money; and event leaders are establishing an endowment with the proceeds, the interest on which will later be awarded as scholarships. Washington is a member of the school's Board of Trustees and former board chairman.

The State Law Enforcement Division has a copy of the audit and is investigating, said Jennifer Timmons, SLED's communications director. Timmons said she can't comment or release any information now because the investigation is ongoing.

According to the audit, the fundraiser for the three years brought in $651,323 in revenue. Expenses totaled $536,474. That left $114,849 in proceeds.

The audit, which raises more questions than it answers, marks the latest round of discord at the often embattled institution, which is the state's only public historically black university.

The university's board voted in April to conduct an internal audit after finances for the Lowcountry Classic , the final football game of the season held at The Citadel, were included in concerns raised by the university's accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

In December, the association issued a 12-month warning to the university based on five areas of concern, all of which center on the Board of Trustees and whether it overstepped its authority. The association's director said she decided to look into the board's actions after anonymously receiving newspaper stories about the board's 2007 decision not to renew the contract of former president Andrew Hugine. The stories included comments from U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D- S.C., criticizing the board's decision. Clyburn is a S.C. State alumnus. He and several state legislators were critical of the board, and Washington in particular, over its decision to let Hugine go.

Washington elaborated on the audit's most alarming findings.

On the single scholarship awarded, he said event organizers were planning to raise between $500,000 and $1 million over five years for an endowment for scholarships. The university's Advancement Foundation is in the process of creating the endowment, he said, but it's been put on hold pending the SLED investigation.

The audit raised particular concerns about pledges. Total game-day pledges were $447,275. Only $173,500 of that could be verified, leaving $273,775 unaccounted for.

Washington said he can explain the unaccounted-for pledges from 2006, 2007 and 2008, the three years the school has held the game in Charleston. The audit found:

--$60,000 unaccounted for in 2006. Washington said that was money from Charleston County and the city of Charleston that went to the school's athletic department, not the Advancement Foundation.

--$163,775 unaccounted for in 2007. Washington said the auditor mistakenly included in-kind contributions with cash contributions, making it appear money was missing.

--$50,000 unaccounted for in 2008. Washington said corporate pledges that haven't come in yet explain this shortfall.

Some of Washington's critics, including representatives from Clyburn's office and state Reps. Jerry Govan, and Gilda Cobb-Hunter, both Orangeburg Democrats, could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

S.C. State President George Cooper, in a statement Thursday, said the audit report reveals "some missing data and records that have led to inconsistent conclusions in accounting for the Lowcountry Classic events." He also stated that he's confident the SLED investigation "will bring clarity to these issues."

Washington said Thursday that he's not certain who passed the internal audit report to SLED. He wanted to respond to Evelyn Anderson, the auditor, about her initial findings to clear things up, he said. But SLED already had the report. He was told by a university attorney that if he tried to talk to Anderson, it would appear he was trying to influence a criminal investigation, he said.

In her audit report, Anderson also said the S.C. State Foundation and the Advancement Foundation, groups that received and managed some of the Lowcountry Classic's proceeds, were resistant to providing information.

Washington said he thinks the turmoil over the audit reflects deep divisions among members of the Board of Trustees. But he conceded that financial control measures the auditor suggested in her report "are good and we need to govern ourselves by them."

Read the report and its appendixes

Memo from Dr. Cooper introducting the audit

Audit report cover

Main report (26 pages)

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D

Appendix E

Appendix F

Appendix G

Appendix H

Appendix I

Appendix J

Appendix K

Appendix L

Appendix M

Appendix N

Appendix O