- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

The D.C. Inspector General is investigating whether the July theft of financial records at the University of the District of Columbia is connected to a $263,000 renovation of the university president’s residence.

The Washington Times reported in July that the theft of the records from the office of finance official Mark Lassiter — a target of the investigation — coincided with inquiries into the hiring of the school’s new provost. It also coincided with inquiries into expenditures at the three-story brick home in the 3500 block of Rittenhouse Street NW that serves as the official residence of UDC President William L. Pollard.

“To my understanding, they are looking into the Lassiter file thing, and they are looking into the university residence,” Mike Andrews, a spokesman for the university, said last night.

Mr. Andrews declined to comment further, saying that Mr. Lassiter is an employee of the city’s chief financial officer and that reports of the theft and the renovations were “old news.”

“This is an investigation conducted by another agency, and since it is their investigation, we don’t want to comment on it in any detail,” he said.

D.C. Council member Harold P. Brazil, at-large Democrat, said he was surprised by news of the investigation but planned to look into it.

“I certainly want everything to look good at our only state university,” he said.

Paul Bachman, a business management professor at UDC for 34 years, said an investigation into the university’s finances is long overdue.

“It’s a good thing, a very positive development,” he said. “If they are investigating these two things, those are two things that need to be investigated.”

A UDC staffer familiar with the finance department, where the theft occurred, has told The Times that the files contain documents regarding the school’s payroll, the financial affairs of Mr. Pollard’s office, expenses for 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.

Mr. Pollard said in August that 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.

WAMU-FM [88.5] first reported on the remodeling expenses June 27.

The Times reported in September that the school spent $79,225 on exterior repairs and $136,748 on interior renovations at the 4,863-square-foot house, which has four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half-bathrooms.

The renovation project also included bills of roughly $90,000 for granite and marble countertops, $47,000 for a roof, $2,099 for a 52-inch Sony projection TV, $900 for a Bose home-theater system, $24,907 for Ethan Allen furniture and $24,090 to replace carpets, according to UDC purchasing records obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

The university also paid $40,000 to remove wallpaper and paint.

University officials said the 23-year-old home had a collapsing roof, broken sidewalks, worn electrical wiring, rotted carpeting and peeling wallpaper.

Lingering questions about the stolen Lassiter files 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.

The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is investigating whether Mr. Pollard violated ethics rules in hiring a family friend as the school’s new provost. The investigation follows reports that first appeared July 11 in The Times that the new provost and vice president of academic affairs, Wilhelmina M. Reuben-Cooke, apparently lacks the experience and education required for her $137,000-a-year job.

Mr. Brazil twice called for Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s resignation last summer.

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