Monday, October 20, 2008

What Happened to UAB's Dirty Money?

News came recently that my former employer, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), is going through a rough financial patch.

With the Bush economy crumbling all around us, things aren't looking so bright on Birmingham's Southside. Tax collections in Alabama are way down--hey, those Bush tax cuts are kicking in--so UAB already has absorbed an 11 percent cut in state funding for fiscal 2009.

Now President Carol Garrison says UAB could be facing even more cuts. (Isn't this interesting: When Bob Riley was running for governor in 2002, he blasted Democrat Don Siegelman when state budgets went into proration. Now that Big Bob's in the governor's chair, he isn't crowing quite so much. Turns out Alabama relies way too heavily on sales taxes [as opposed to stable property taxes] to fund essential state services. That means revenues don't meet projections when the economy eventually tanks--as it usually does when a Republican president is in charge--and the governor can't do a whole lot about it. In short, Bob Riley is presiding over the worst Alabama economy in modern history. Wonder if Artur Davis, Jim Folsom Jr., and other Democrats will bring that up in 2010.)

But back to UAB. What happened to the several hundred million dollars the university cheated taxpayers out of over a 10-year period starting in the 1990s?

We've made several references over the past two months or so to the fact that the Bush Justice Department, led by local U.S. attorney Alice Martin, helped UAB get away with massive research fraud. The university barely received a slap on the wrist, thanks to a sham "investigation" that Martin's lackeys conducted.

So where did all of that money go? I was around UAB long enough to know that funds targeted for research cannot be used for operational expenses. But what about fraudulently obtained research funds? What about research funds that were greatly in excess of what the university was supposed to receive?

We will be going into detail soon about the case of the UAB research-fraud coverup. But for now, here is a key point to keep in mind:

The charges were driven by two whistleblowers in what is known as a qui tam case. And these whistleblowers were insiders who had reason to know what they were talking about.

One was UAB's former director of research compliance, who has a background in forensic accounting and has worked with federal prosecutors in a number of major fraud cases.

The other was a former researcher in rehabilitation medicine. Public documents indicate that fraudulently obtained research dollars did not go to him while he was on the UAB faculty.

So where did all of that money go? And we're talking about an estimated $300 to $500 million.

That seems to be a reasonable question to ask now that UAB is claiming to be short on funds.

It also is a timely question as we near the beginning of a new administration in Washington, D.C. If recent polls are on target, that new administration will be led by Democrat Barack Obama.

Republicans who had directed the Bush Justice Department have clearly shown that they are not interested in getting to the bottom of gross research fraud at UAB.

Alice Martin swept the wrongdoing under the proverbial rug, and that's just one of several signs that UAB has been in bed with the corrupt GOPers who have been running our country into the ground.

Another sign? My unlawful termination, which public documents indicate probably was driven by a major UAB donor with ties to Bob Riley, Rob Riley, Dax Swatek, the oil industry, and the gambling industry.

This UAB donor happens to have a most colorful history behind the wheel of vehicles, and he faces a criminal trial on drunk-driving charges on December 1. And that's just one of many mishaps where he has put other people's lives at risk.

To make matters even juicier, this donor is the defendant in a lawsuit that alleges improper accounting in the handling of the estate of a prominent Birmingham businessman.

The bottom line? UAB has been taking big money from at least one unsavory individual. Does UAB care that this chap has repeatedly put the lives of innocent people at risk because of his reckless behavior behind the wheel? Evidently not. "Hey, the guy writes us big checks," the university seems to say. "Why should we care if he's a public menace?"

How's that for ethics at Carol Garrison's university?

A lot of unsavory stuff has been going on at UAB in recent years, and the university now claims to be low on funds--even though evidence shows it has quite a history of taking taxpayers for a ride.

Alice Martin and her cronies have looked the other way when confronted with corruption at UAB. But a new sheriff will be in town soon, and God willing, it will be Barack Obama.

Perhaps an Obama administration will take it seriously when a major university cheats taxpayers at will.


Anonymous said...

Don't know why I'll bother to comment since you won't allow it to be posted, but you're living in LALA Land if you call this the worst economy in Alabama's history. Per capita income is up, median family income is up and our unemployment rate is lower than all the other surrounding states.

More than 150,000 new jobs since Riley became Governor. Net job gains. Your hero Siegelman presided over a net job LOSS during his blessedly brief time in the Governor's chair.

legalschnauzer said...

If the economy is so great, why are tax collections down to the point that UAB is considering another cut on top of the 11 percent cut it already has made?

Regarding net job loss under Siegelman, can you cite an objective source on that?

Anonymous said...

The schnauzer is correct. The crisis stems from a preposterously stupid approach to public finance. Funding education out of sales tax revenues is just ridiculous.

The long-run problem here is that it is going to be really hard for the state to attract and retain faculty at the public universities.

Fortunately for Alabama we're not the only idiot state that is increasingly leveraging its public education system on federal grant dollars.

Although I am a "biased educator" the underfunding of higher education throughout America is undermining our future.

The Federal government should not step in to bail out the foolish Alabamians who refuse to pay the taxes necessary to finance public services.