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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

UAB's Carol Garrison: The Disturbing Backstory of a Corrupt University President

Carol Garrison

The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) settled a whistleblower case with the U.S. government for $3.39 million in 2005. In announcing the settlement, UAB President Carol Garrison made a statement that speaks volumes about the kind of "leadership" Alabama's largest employer has been under for roughly a decade.

In a written statement, Garrison called the settlement a "very positive outcome."

What Garrison did not say, and the mainstream press did not bother to find out, is that UAB got off with paying a tiny fraction of the actual fraud that was present in the case.

Thomas Gober, a forensic accountant who had been UAB's director of research compliance, was one of the whistleblowers. The other was a physician, rehabilitation-medicine specialist Jay Meythaler.

According to court documents, Gober conservatively estimated the total fraud at UAB to be $300 million over at least a 10-year period. He said the total might have approached $600 million. If we cut UAB a break and split the difference--calling the total $450 million--that means the university paid way less than 1 percent of the amount it should have had to pay for defrauding the federal government, mostly Medicare and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Carol Garrison calls that a "very positive outcome"? Not for American taxpayers, it wasn't.

Evidence indicates that the Bush Justice Department, friendly to the conservative "pro business" forces that run Alabama, let UAB off the hook. Sources have told Legal Schnauzer that the feds conducted no legitimate investigation of the allegations against UAB, and the case was settled when UAB hired a powerful Washington, D.C., law firm that essentially agreed to plead guilty to one case of fraud. The government accepted that plea, without even addressing more than 100 similar cases on the UAB campus.

Former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, so quick to go after Democrats and people of color for "corruption" in the Northern District of Alabama, was not interested in scrutinizing UAB.

If Garrison were an honest person, here is what she would have said after the 2005 settlement: "Our hard-working scientists and administrators at UAB have bilked the federal government out of almost half a billion dollars, and we think it's great that we will have to pay back less than 1 percent of that amount now that we've been caught.

"We are deeply grateful that my close personal friend, Alice Martin, chose not to look too closely at the way we conduct business on Birmingham's Southside. If a real U.S. attorney had been in office, we would have had to pay back hundreds of millions of dollars--and dozens of UAB big wigs might have gone to federal prison. Wouldn't that have been awful?

"Thanks to Alice and our many Republican friends in Alabama, it's business as usual at UAB. And I don't have to worry about wearing one of those orange prison jumpsuits. Isn't that a positive outcome?"

When you know the facts behind the UAB whistleblower case--and I do--you understand that Garrison's actual statement is grotesquely warped, almost depraved.

But it helps explain a tenure that has been marked by rampant mismanagement, including both scientific and academic fraud, numerous complaints of discrimination from veteran faculty and staff members, layoffs, key faculty departures, and more.

The UAB Athletics Department has been brought to the edge of ruin under Garrison's "leadership." She caved in to pressure from the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and hired Neil Callaway as football coach in 2006. The Callaway era mercifully ended with his firing on November 27, after an 18-42 record over five seasons marked by steadily declining attendance.

Callaway's hiring prompted Garrison to make perhaps the single most ignorant public statement ever uttered by a university president. First, she addressed reports that UA trustee Paul Bryant Jr. engineered the Callaway hiring, saying the perception was "absolutely incorrect." Then she called Callaway "the absolute best coach in the world."

Garrison seems to have a fetish for the word "absolute," in all of its various forms. We'd say she might be absolutely the most clueless individual to ever head a major university.

Even UAB's vaunted men's basketball program seems to be teetering on Garrison's watch. The Blazers are on their way to a probable losing record in 2011-12 under head coach Mike Davis. Like Callaway, Davis just happens to be a product of UA's Tuscaloosa campus. Did the trustees want a pair of Tuscaloosa guys to help drive UAB sports over a cliff? If so, the plan seems to be working.

I'm not always the Amazing Kreskin when it comes to predicting the future. But even I could see decay coming at UAB. If you go back and look at Garrison's first year in office, you see that her subsequent behavior should not be a surprise. Garrison showed clear early signs that she did not mind wasting taxpayer dollars and abusing the public trust.

Garrison heaped enough embarrassment on UAB in her first year that she should have been fired. But the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, already facing a lawsuit from Garrison's predecessor, chose to keep her on. That led to what has clearly been the worst decade in UAB's otherwise charmed history.

As UAB president, Garrison has kept an extremely low profile, rarely granting interviews and often relying on written statements to serious inquiries. There's a reason for that. She wants no part of having to answer for her actions, which have badly tarnished one of Alabama's shining stars.

In retrospect, there were plenty of early signs that Carol Garrison was a terrible choice as UAB president. The public, and even many UAB employees, chose to ignore it. But we should have seen it coming.

What was the first clue? Her dalliance with a man named John W. Shumaker, then president of the University of Tennessee, showed that Carol Garrison has shaky ethics. And things only have gone downhill since then on Birmingham's Southside.

This all hits close to home for me, as I described in a recent post:

As for my own experience with corruption under Carol Garrison's regime, I worked in various editorial positions at UAB for 19 years before being unlawfully fired in May 2008. A tape-recorded conversation I had with UAB Employee Relations Director Anita Bonasera proves that I was targeted and fired because I have written numerous blog posts--on my own time, with my own resources--that have been supportive of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. I was one of many journalists--conservative icon George Will is the latest--to address the likelihood that Siegelman, a Democrat, was the victim of a political prosecution under the Bush Department of Justice. Evidence strongly suggests that Carol Garrison got heat about a UAB employee exercising his First Amendment rights to report on a matter of public concern, and she caved in from pressure to fire me.

I have an ongoing federal lawsuit against UAB, and who knows how that will turn out? But there is no doubt about why I was fired. The following video spells it out, especially at the 1:40 to 2:30 mark. This is the kind of "ethics" that UAB practices under Carol Garrison. . . .

The John Shumaker/Carol Garrison scandal has largely been swept from public view. But the public needs to be reminded about it. That's because the scandal set the stage for significant rot to set in at Alabama's single most important asset. UAB is too important--on a national and international scale--to let an inept president cause decay that could take years to fix.

When did decline set in at UAB, and what could it mean to Alabama's future? We will examine those questions in a series of upcoming posts. The following video illustrates the blatant dishonesty that is at the heart of UAB life these days. It proves that the Shumaker/Garrison affair of 10 years ago was a sign of things to come.

(To be continued)


Anonymous said...

The False Claims Act allows treble damages and a $10k per occurrence fine. A $300M fraud could result in a recovery of taxpayer dollars totaling well over $1B. This settlement is a fraction of the amount owed to taxpayers. What a travesty of "justice"! Just another example of selective prosecution of white collar crime. It is not only a matter of who you are, but also of who you know.

legalschnauzer said...


You raise a very important point. Treble damages is, in fact, a key component of a case under the False Claims Act. That shows you just what a big favor Alice Martin cut for UAB. Also, the settlement in the case makes it clear that a civil or criminal investigation can be reopened in the matter at any time. I'm going to be writing much more about that settlement agreement. Citizens need to know what really goes on in these kinds of cases. In addition to enormous financial penalities, UAB could have had dozens of researchers and administrators marched off to federal prison. Alice Martin made sure that didn't happen--and current U.S. attorney Joyce White Vance isn't likely to do anything about it either.

Anonymous said...

Just curious...what happened to the whistleblowers? Are they still employed at UAB?

legalschnauzer said...

No, they are long gone from UAB. In fact, I think they both left before a settlement was even reached.

Tom Gober has his own forensic accounting practice and has been widely quoted in the press on fraud cases around the country. He is particularly knowledgeable on issues connected to AIG.

Jay Meythaler now is on faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit. Meythaler was defendant in a University of Alabama-related lawsuit that smelled an awful lot like retaliation to me. Not sure how that turned out.

Anonymous said...

The False Claims Act also provides a percentage of the recovery to the whistleblowers. 25% of $3.3M is not too shabby, but much less than 25% of $300M or $1B!

legalschnauzer said...

Another good point. The whistleblowers really got screwed here. They had the courage to finger a huge fraud and got relatively little out of it while losing their jobs. Both are smart guys and seem to be doing well. But this is a case where whistleblowing doesn't pay. No wonder people don't report crimes.