|UA Trustee Paul Bryant Jr. |
and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions
It's impossible to overstate the importance of UAB to the state of Alabama. The university is our largest employer at one location and our strongest economic engine. It provides a comprehensive undergraduate program for students from all socioeconomic strata, has one of the nation's top hospitals, and features a powerhouse biomedical research enterprise that brings in $485 million a year.
Football at UAB is what it should be at all universities--a sideline. But even at UAB, struggles related to the football program can be a sign of something deeper, maybe even sinister. Those struggles became front-page news this week, showing that the university suffers from blatant mismanagement and creeping decay. Will citizens, especially those who live in the metro Birmingham area, wake up and take action? They should because dysfunction is running rampant at UAB--and it could eventually have severe economic consequences.
The 2011 UAB Blazers are one of the worst teams in college football. They are struggling with a 1-7 record and coming off a 59-14 thrashing at Marshall. The Blazers play host on Saturday night to the nation's No. 1 offensive team, the University of Houston, and that game could get ugly in a hurry. As embarrassing losses pile up, calls for the firing of fifth-year head coach Neil Callaway are growing.
With clouds already hovering, UAB supporters took a kick to the gut this week. The University of Alabama Board of Trustees, which oversees the three campuses in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Huntsville, announced that it is withdrawing plans to build an on-campus football stadium at UAB. The board meets today and tomorrow in Tuscaloosa, and the UAB stadium project was expected to be on the agenda. But word leaked Tuesday that the item had been removed from the agenda, and the board confirmed yesterday that the stadium project has been axed for now.
Kevin Scarbinsky, a columnist at al.com, smells a rat. He is not the only one.
UAB supporters are outraged, and many of them are venting on the Blazer Talk message board, understandably so. The Blazers play at antiquated, city-owned Legion Field, and construction of a 30,000-seat, on-campus stadium was seen as central to the football program's future. Perhaps most alarming, the board had approved a feasibility study, UAB officials presented preliminary stadium plans in September, and the board's athletics committee expressed enthusiasm for the project. Plus, UAB already had shown commitments for luxury suites at a new facility.
So why did someone pull the plug?
To help answer that questions, UAB supporters need to understand two things:
* The University of Alabama Board of Trustees is a corrupt mess, and it includes a prominent member who has documented ties to a massive insurance fraud scheme that netted a 15-year federal prison sentence for one man.
* UAB President Carol Garrison is a feckless leader--in fact, she would have to improve to reach the "weak" level. Garrison probably should have been fired for her unseemly dalliance with the president of the University of Tennessee in 2002-03, her first year on the job at UAB. She managed to survive that debacle, but has become little more than a toady for the board.
UAB will not move forward until the board of trustees is exposed for the corruption in its midst--and the Birmingham campus is allowed to have a real leader.
Regular readers know that UAB issues hit close to the bone here at Legal Schnauzer. I worked at the university in various editorial positions for 19 years. Before that, I was a sports reporter at the Birmingham Post-Herald for 11 years, writing extensively about UAB athletics in both the P-H and several national publications.
In short, few people on the planet have done more than I have to portray UAB in a positive light over 30-plus years. But in May 2008, I was cheated out of my job as an editor in the UAB Publications office because I dared to write a blog about corruption in Alabama's "justice system." Legal Schnauzer obviously has ticked off some powerful individuals, as evidenced by the death threats I have received, and someone clearly instructed UAB officials to cook up bogus reasons to fire me. That, by the way, is not just my opinion. Anita Bonasera, the director of employee relations at UAB, admitted to me in a tape-recorded conversation that I was targeted because of my blog content about the political prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman. I've run that audio several times, and here it is again:
Audio: UAB and the Cost of Blogging About the Siegelman Case
A UAB IT employee named Sean Maher testified at my grievance hearing that he had been asked to monitor my computer usage at work for about a month. He gave no indication that he had been asked to monitor anyone else's work computer. But even after checking my every keystroke for an extended period of time, Sean Maher reported that I had never written the first word of my blog on UAB equipment or time. He presented no evidence that I had worked on my blog in any way while on UAB equipment or time.
But I was fired anyway. And Carol Garrison upheld my termination, even after her own grievance committee found that I had been wrongly fired.
As you can see, I know a thing or two about dysfunction at UAB. And by the way, I have an ongoing federal lawsuit regarding my termination, and various UAB employees (past and present) have shown a willingness to lie under oath--while an 83-year-old judge named William M. Acker Jr. has repeatedly ruled contrary to basic procedural law. Experience has taught me that certain large, downtown law firms--especially Bradley Arant and Haskell Slaughter--more or less run Birmingham's federal courthouse and are willing to protect the thugs who run the University of Alabama System.
The University of Alabama Board of Trustees definitely includes a thug or two. UAB football fans are learning that now--the hard way.
Just how deep does the corruption go on the UA board? Consider that it's best known member is Paul Bryant Jr., the son of the late Hall of Fame football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Bear Bryant turned Tuscaloosa's Crimson Tide into one of the nation's powerhouse football programs, and "Bear Jr." reportedly does not like the idea of UAB having a program, much less a good one.
But more important is this: In the late 1990s, a company called Alabama Reassurance was implicated in a massive insurance fraud scheme in Pennsylvania. A federal trial ended with a 15-year prison sentence for a Philadelphia lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart--and with unmistakable evidence that Alabama Re was deeply involved in the crimes.
Who owned Alabama Re? Why, none other than Paul Bryant Jr.
Want evidence that Bryant Jr.'s company was involved in the Stewart case, one of the nation's largest insurance-fraud prosecutions at the time? Here it is, from one of our posts back in July:
Why has the case received so little attention in the South? It's not like the evidence against Bryant's company is hard to find; it's available with a simple Internet search. And it's not hard to understand; the language in a 2001 memorandum opinion from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania lays out the scheme clearly. (See the full memorandum opinion at the end of this post.) The document shows that the scheme involving Stewart and Alabama Re involved counts 24 through 32 of a 135-count indictment. Footnote No. 11, which begins on page 16 of the opinion, addresses Alabama Re's role in the fraud:
11. The relevant portions of the charge read as follows:
Counts 24 through 32 charge a wire fraud scheme to deceive state insurance regulators involving reinsurance. The superseding indictment alleges that in late 1992 or early 1993 the defendant devised a scheme to deceive state regulators and others regarding the true and complete reinsurance arrangements involving Summit National Life Insurance Company, its subsidiary Fidelity General Life Insurance Company, and the Alabama Reassurance Company in order to inflate their financial statements.
Alabama Re helped "deceive state regulators" to "inflate financial statements"? That's the kind of behavior that helped land a bunch of executives from Birmingham-based HealthSouth in federal prison. How did Paul Bryant Jr. escape the feds in Alabama, when convictions on all counts already had been reached in Philadelphia? We will look at that question shortly, but the more immediate question is this: How does a man with documented ties to insurance fraud wind up on a university board of trustees?
There have been only a couple of problems with that plan: Many UAB supporters have resented Callaway from the outset, and he has proven to be a colossal failure as a head coach.
Word is that UAB wants to fire Callaway, and it's hard to see how he can hang on much longer with a career record of 16-44.
Quite a few Blazer fans now suspect that Bryant Jr. axed the stadium project in retaliation for efforts to can Callaway. I'm guessing those fans are right on target. That's how things are done these days at UAB, and it's largely because Carol Garrison doesn't have the spine to stand up to the corrupt UA board.
Maybe that's because Carol Garrison is corrupt herself. We will be taking a detailed look at Garrison's questionable actions in an upcoming series of posts.
Meanwhile, here is a document about the Allen W. Stewart case, from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. It includes details about Alabama Re's involvement in the Stewart case. In a sense, Allen W. Stewart was Bernie Madoff, before the world had heard of Bernie Madoff--and Paul Bryant Jr.'s company helped pull off his dirty schemes.
Did anyone "vet" Paul Bryant Jr., and examine his business activities, before he was confirmed to the University of Alabama Board of Trustees? Sure doesn't look like it.
Alabama Re Memorandum Opinion