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Wednesday June 6, 2001

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A matter of trust

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By Katie Clark

Arizona Summer Wildcat

As UAPD investigates accusations that a former program director used university-allocated funds on escort services, campus officials examine the balance between trust and suspicion of its employees

An investigation begins

As a fraud investigation ensues into whether or not a former graduate business program director used taxpayer funds for personal use, the University of Arizona is trying to maintain a balance between trusting their employees while evaluating every move they make and every dollar they spend.

The UA Police Department is investigating former graduate business program director John. C. Buckingham Jr. for allegedly using public funds designated for travel to hire escort services while on business trips.

"We do routine checks internally," said Mark Zupan, dean of the College of Business and Public Administration. "Some of the sizes of the expenditures made us suspicious."

Zupan said he did not know specifically which of Buckingham's expense reports alerted the college that there might be a problem.

"There were some amounts that were questionable," he said. "Some of the trips were too large."

Zupan said once suspicions arose, the university's internal audit department was called in to investigate. The audit report was then turned over to the university's legal department, who contacted UAPD.

"We looked at (his expenses) internally and then gave it to the legal department," Zupan said. "Then they make the decision whether or not to interface with the police department."

UAPD would not comment yesterday since the investigation is ongoing, and did not say if the department was close to filing official charges against Buckingham.

Buckingham, who was hired in February 1999, resigned in March. Zupan would not comment on why Buckingham resigned, or whether or not Buckingham left on good terms.

"All I can say is he resigned," Zupan said.

Zupan said he is not sure how far back the allegations go, but said the majority of the claims came within his final few months at the university.

"A good portion was caught before it was reimbursed," Zupan said. "We want to be real thorough when we're checking."

"There are ongoing investigations all the time "

Sharon Kha, official spokesperson for UA, said that while she does not remember an investigation such as Buckingham's in her time at the university, there are investigations into misconduct going on "all the time."

"I've never heard of someone using funds for an escort service," she said, but did not comment on the specifics of the Buckingham investigation.

UA's policy for what it deems as a "reasonable expenditure" is the following, as stated by Financial Services Office:

  • the nature of the goods or services acquired and the amount involved reflect the actions of a prudent person under the circumstances,

  • the expenditure is appropriate given the purpose of the university, and

  • reimbursement for or direct payment of the expenditure is not otherwise disallowed by any university policy."

    The office also defines what they deem as an "unreasonable expenditure" as the following:

  • Expenditures for employee's social or recreational functions - where no business is conducted nor business objectives are present (for example, non-approved individual retirement farewells or employee recognition programs, picnics, or memorial services; Christmas or other holiday related parties and employee functions).

  • Gifts of any type for personal life events or for holidays (for example, for condolence, congratulations, birthdays).

  • Dues for membership in community service organizations (for example, Kiwanis, Rotary).

  • Charitable contributions or donations.

  • University parking fees and permits for faculty, staff or administrators personal use.

  • Fines and penalties (for example, parking fines and returned check charges).

  • Personal expenses (for example, personal phone calls, personal use of photocopy machines, supplies for home or personal use, such as, briefcases).

    Jose Montante, the UA's accounts payable/receivable operations coordinator, said unnecessary expenditure cases are not common.

    "To my recollection, we haven't had these sort of reimbursement issues in a long time," Montante, said.

    Montante said he and his staff are very thorough when looking over travel expense forms and does not know if or how any misuse would not have been noticed.

    "That's what I am curious about," he said.

    "We have to operate in a society of trust."

    Kha said the most difficult part about the issue of trust and accountability for university employees is the balancing act the administration must play in maintaining a trusting yet watchful environment when examining the actions of employees.

    "There is a difficulty in balancing trust in individuals and a vigilance against the misuse of power or money," she said. "We have to operate in a society of trust."

    UA Provost George Davis agreed and said he did not foresee any changes in the way the university examines reimbursement issues, even if charges are brought against Buckingham.

    "We are a very mature university," he said. "Our policies are quite strong. I don't think they need to be changed."

    But, he said, the university also needs to be strong when it comes to enforcing its policies.

    "In a university like ours, we indeed are diligent regarding the processes in place," he said.

    Davis also said, though, that strict enforcement of university policies must coexist with an unspoken policy of trust in its employees.

    "It would be difficult to act as an academic community with a veil of mistrust," he said.

    Moving on

    As the investigation continues, Zupan said he hopes the college can move forward.

    "You have to move ahead when stuff like this happens," he said. "We will seek restitutions if the charges are valid, which is why we have audit controls."

    Zupan also said he had a good relationship with Buckingham during Buckingham's time at the college.

    And now, "It's discontinued."

    Zupan said he was regretful about the situation because of the contribution Buckingham made to the college.

    "He did a lot of good for the program," he said. "People come in packages.

    "You wish you could separate the good from the bad."