- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2003

The University of the District of Columbia campus police are investigating the theft of financial records that coincided with media inquiries into the hiring of the school’s new provost and expenditures on the house of its president.

The stolen files contain documents regarding the school’s payroll, the financial affairs of UDC President William L. Pollard and expenses in renovating his home, and other executive spending, said a university staffer familiar with the finance department, where the theft occurred.

Campus police received a report on July 11 from the office of Accounting Operations Manager Mark Lassiter that files had been stolen. They reported the incident July 15 to Metropolitan Police, who were discouraged by university officials from investigating until an internal probe is completed.

“We don’t know what happened,” said Robert T. Robinson, the university’s vice president for public safety. Mr. Robinson, who reports directly to Mr. Pollard, is leading the internal investigation.

It could not be determined whether the theft of the files is linked to The Washington Times’ inquiries into Mr. Pollard’s hiring of Wilhelmina M. Reuben-Cooke as the university’s new provost and vice president of academic affairs.

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

It also could not be determined whether the theft is linked to reports on “The D.C. Politics Hour” on WAMU-FM (Radio 88.5) about expenditures on Mr. Pollard’s university home. WAMU first reported about the remodeling expenses, estimated at more than $100,000, on June 27.

UDC officials declined to describe the stolen files, but a spokeswoman for the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer characterized them as “financial” documents.

“The matter is under investigation, so I cannot comment on it other than to say that financial files are missing,” said CFO spokeswoman Clarice Nassif Ransom.

No other items were taken from Mr. Lassiter’s cubicle-style office on the third floor of UDC Building No. 38, said a school official familiar with the incident. No other offices or cubicles were burglarized.

UDC officials did not return telephone messages asking whether the data in the missing documents also had been stored in computer files or whether anyone had checked to see that the data were still in the computer system.

According to a campus police report, a UDC police officer observed a handprint 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 that someone may have climbed over the divider to enter the cubicle.

The Times has obtained a copy of the police report.

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.

Mr. Lassiter has declined to comment. As the university’s accounting operations manager, he oversees accounts payable, payroll and financial reporting, and helps draft the university’s year-end comprehensive financial reports.

It was not clear yesterday what role D.C. police would play in the investigation. When Metropolitan Police were called in July 15, the hand- and footprints were not dusted because the burglary was deemed a minor theft of items valued at less than $500, according to the campus police report.

UDC Communications Director Mark Andrews said a criminal investigation is not yet warranted because campus police had not determined that the files were stolen.

“There is an investigation to determine what files, if any, are missing,” Mr. Andrews said. “Mr. Lassiter felt that some of the files had been misplaced, disappeared, call it whatever you want. He felt some of the files were missing.”

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