Perjury charges not pursued in conflicting testimony over UA finances

by The City Wire staff ( 42 views 

Heated and conflicting legislative testimony related to more than $6 million in deficits within a University of Arkansas division will not be investigated further for perjury, according to Larry Jegley, prosecuting attorney for the 6th Judicial District of Arkansas.

Jegley, in a letter dated June 2 to Arkansas Legislative Auditor Roger Norman, said he could not find enough in the conflicting testimony given by University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart and former UA employees to warrant more review.

“While there may be differing versions of the events and discussions concerning the matters at issue, none rise to meet the standards of meriting further actions under Ark. Code Ann. Section 5-53-102. We now consider this matter closed,” Jegley wrote.

Norman had asked Jegley to investigate the legislative testimony for potential perjury among the witnesses.

In February 2013, Gearhart asked auditors for the Arkansas General Assembly and the University of Arkansas System to perform independent audits of spending within the university’s advancement division. Prior to Gearhart’s request for the audit, Brad Choate resigned as vice chancellor of the division and Joy Sharp resigned as budget director of the Advancement Division.

In September 2013, state lawmakers heard conflicting testimony from fired University of Arkansas spokesman John Diamond who said he was told by his superiors to destroy documents related to a budget shortfall in the UA Division of University Advancement. Gearhart called the allegations "astounding,” "absurd" and "pathetic."

In late August, Chris Wyrick, then the newly-named UA vice chancellor for university advancement, fired Diamond. The act came in the aftermath of the discovery of a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall in UA's fundraising arm, the Division of University Advancement. Diamond disputed how UA should work with news media on reporting the deficit and its causes. Diamond has also alleged that UA officials told him to destroy documents related to a budget shortfall in the UA Advancement Division.

Diamond has since been hired as interim associate vice president for external relations and strategic communications at the University of Wisconsin.

Norman also forwarded in September an investigative report to Prosecuting Attorney John Threet of Fayetteville. Threet eventually decided to not pursue an investigation based on the audit report.

In January, the Joint Performance Review Committee of the Arkansas Legislature heard from Brad Choate, who ran the University of Arkansas’s fundraising division. Choate suggested a “culture of cover up” by school officials. Choate called himself the fall guy for problems that he said had been building since Gearhart ran the Advancement department.

“Frankly, this is another example of a pattern of shameful behaviors designed to protect themselves rather than be honest and accountable. Ladies and gentlemen, something is rotten in Fayetteville,” Choate told the committee.

Gearhart disputed Choate’s assessment, and said Choate “failed to carry out his duties and responsibilities as vice-chancellor by ignoring his duty to manage and supervise budgetary matters.”

In a UA statement issued Monday (June 2), Gearhart welcomed Jegley’s decision.

“I appreciate the diligence that Prosecutor Jegley put in to this review,” Gearhart said. “I believe this is the appropriate conclusion. We remain actively engaged in moving forward toward our goal of being nationally recognized as a top 50 public research university.”