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Former trustee: SC State needs new, "completely reconstituted" board

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ORANGEBURG, SC (WIS) -

In February 2012, former South Carolina State University President George Cooper fired nearly a dozen people, which made up most of his senior staff.

He had campus police escort them off campus, and confiscate the university's property. The reason: Cooper says former SLED Chief Reggie Lloyd found violations during an internal investigation of Cooper's closest staffers.

"For the last three months, this university has been challenged with many issues beyond my control," said Cooper.

Lloyd says the violations extended from the board and throughout the campus administration.

"It doesn't get any worse than this," said Lloyd.

Lloyd spent months at SC State in his investigation. He says it didn't take him long to find the problems.

"Where are the breakdowns? Is it just that our systems or policies aren't correct or do we have issues with personnel," said Lloyd.

He found problems with both, which lead to the firings. Lloyd says he uncovered criminal, ethical, and mismanagement with Cooper's closest staffers.

The problem, according to Lloyd, was the university didn't have the people or systems in place to identify fraud, and no one willing to speak up to stop it.

"The university has to have -- just like any public institution -- has to have not only systems in place and policies designed to catch that sort of activity, but then it's got to have people in place and a culture in place that would encourage individuals who work there who are aware of activity to come forward to the administration or to the proper authorities," said Lloyd.

As it turns out, many of the names of the people fired last year show up on the homecoming contracts that got former board chairman Jonathon Pinson indicted. For example, former Cooper Chief of Staff Ed Givens.

Givens also served as the university's attorney. Contracts show he negotiated the deal between the university and WE Entertainment. -- that's the firm the FBI says Pinson used his position to make sure it got the $351,000 homecoming contract.

We went to Givens' home to ask him what he knew about the contracts. He was not available at the time, but we left our telephone number for him to contact us.

Joe Pearman also lost his job in the mass firings. His name came up in a list of university officials who approved spending the $351,000 student fees on homecoming. Another approver. Dr. Charles Smith, the university's vice president of student affairs, was also fired last year.

Another fired employee, Lillian Adderson, whose signature is on nearly every expenditure of student fees, was associated with the homecoming contract.

The feds say Pinson took a kickback on his friend's $60,000 dollar entertainment contract.

Cooper hired Lloyd to find out how it happened, and who was responsible. University records show Cooper signed off on $50,000 to the homecoming spending, but Cooper says that's not why he resigned in March 2012.

"Please note that my departure is voluntary, not forced, as I believe the steps I've taken in the last 90 days will allow the board to continue to restore integrity, trust and academic excellence to this fine university," said Cooper.

But employees weren't SC State's only problem. Former board trustee Matthew Richardson says it goes all the way to the top.

"We had a board -- last year -- that board could not effectively govern, and it couldn't reform itself," said Richardson.

Richardson called for the internal investigation after he found out the FBI was looking at Pinson and other university officials. But, after Cooper resigned last year, the board stopped the internal investigation. That was it for Richardson.

"It led to terminations and changes in policies, and I was really proud of that, but the board stopped that internal investigation and stopped holding people accountable and that's when almost 9 months ago, I resigned in protest of those actions," said Richardson.

In a July 2011 board meeting, Pinson talked about firing a board member who released a presidential evaluation, chastising that fellow board member for not following the rules.

"Make that a public notice to push the legislators that you can't have unethical folks on the board that's not going to follow policy is disruptive to the whole board," said Pinson.

The entire time, Pinson had no idea the FBI had his phone tapped and was gathering evidence against him.

US Assistant attorney Mark Moore, who's leading the prosecution, says this story isn't over.

"This investigation is continuing, and I would just tell you to stay tuned," said Moore.

As for the university, it is working to make changes under interim President Cynthia Warrick. She has already changed student activity fee policy and instituted a zero tolerance policy for what the new finance director calls, "compromised integrity within the university staff."

However, Richardson says broader changes are necessary.

"I think there'd have to be a new board -- a completely reconstituted board -- for it to have an opportunity to provide the transparency and accountability the students and taxpayers deserve," said Richardson.

So far, the only people charged in this case are Pinson, his business partner Eric Robinson, and former Police Chief Michael Bartley.

Prosecutors say more indictments are on the way.

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