- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

University of the District of Columbia officials said this week they ended their investigation of stolen financial files and gave the case to the Metropolitan Police Department on July 24.

But UDC officials have said for several weeks prior their investigation of the July 11 burglary was continuing. The Washington Times first reported the theft and the investigation being conducted by campus police July 25, including comments by high-ranking university officials.

As recently as three weeks ago, UDC President William L. Pollard issued a written statement saying the university was still “conducting a comprehensive internal investigation to determine how these files apparently disappeared, [and] just as importantly we are seeking an explanation as to why this happened.”

University officials this week would not address the discrepancy. In an e-mail, UDC spokesman Mark Andrews said campus security chief Robert T. Robinson had given the case to D.C. police July 24 and had not received any additional information from city police.

Sgt. Joe Gentile yesterday said police had not made any arrests and the investigation is ongoing. He declined to provide details.

The theft of the records from the office of finance official Mark Lassiter coincided with inquiries from The Times about the hiring of the university’s new provost and WAMU-FM’s (88.5) inquiries about expenditures on the president’s university residence.

According to a statement released by Mr. Pollard this month, the files “were electronically stored on computers at the university, and are easily retrievable.” But UDC officials have declined to divulge or describe the contents of the stolen files.

Members of UDC’s board of trustees have said university officials should reproduce the documents and make them public.

A UDC staffer familiar with the finance department, where the theft occurred, has told The Times the files contain documents regarding the school’s payroll, the financial affairs of Mr. Pollard’s office, expenses in renovating his home and other executive spending.

No other items were taken from Mr. Lassiter’s cubicle-style office on the third floor of UDC Building No. 38. No other financial offices or cubicles were burglarized in the incident, which Mr. Lassiter reported to campus police July 11.

At the time The Times first reported the theft and investigation, Mr. Andrews said a D.C. police investigation might not be necessary, depending on the outcome of Mr. Robinson’s investigation. “We don’t know what happened,” he told The Times on July 24.

Mr. Robinson, who was handpicked by Mr. Pollard this year to serve in the newly created post of vice president for public safety, declined to be interviewed.

Mr. Pollard and Mr. Lassiter also declined requests for comment. As the university’s controller, Mr. Lassiter oversees accounts payable, payroll and financial reporting, and helps draft the university’s year-end comprehensive financial reports.

According to a campus police report obtained by The Times, a UDC police officer observed a hand print on the wall inside Mr. Lassiter’s cubicle and a footprint on the outer wall of his office, which has a door and wall dividers. The officer said the prints indicated someone might have climbed over the divider to enter the cubicle.

Mr. Lassiter, who had the only key to the office, did not know when the theft occurred. He last saw the documents July 1, before he went on vacation until July 7. He didn’t notice they were gone until July 11, according to the report.

Lingering questions about the stolen Lassiter files only add to the growing list of concerns dogging Mr. Pollard in the year since he took over the District’s only public institution of higher education, which in past years has been beset by financial mismanagement, poor academic performance and accreditation concerns.

Mr. Pollard has been criticized for excessive spending, hiring of friends for high-paying jobs, inattention to maintenance needs at the university and violations of NCAA rules that recently forced the UDC men’s soccer team to forfeit most of last year’s winning season.

The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is investigating whether Mr. Pollard violated standards of conduct for public officials in hiring a family friend, Wilhelmina M. Reuben-Cooke, as the university’s provost and vice president of academic affairs.

It has not been determined whether the theft of the Lassiter files is linked to inquiries by The Times into Mr. Pollard hiring Mrs. Reuben-Cooke.

The Times first reported July 11 that Mr. Pollard had hired her for the $137,000-a-year job, even though she lacks the requisite experience and education for the post. Mrs. Reuben-Cooke, who started her job July 15, is married to D.C. labor lawyer Edmund D. Cooke Jr., who helped Mr. Pollard secure his $200,000-a-year job at the university.

It also has not been determined whether the theft is linked to reports on “The D.C. Politics Hour” on WAMU-FM about expenditures on Mr. Pollard’s university home. WAMU first reported on the remodeling expenses, estimated at more than $100,000, on June 27.

Matthew Cella contributed to this report.

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