College president 'exonerated' by trustees

by Kelly Boggs, posted Friday, May 03, 2013 (one year ago)

PINEVILLE, La. (BP) -- Louisiana College's board of trustees met on the school's Pineville campus April 30 for the purpose of addressing the college's "budget and other items of regular business," according to a statement released after a regularly scheduled board meeting March 19.

Gene Lee, chairman of the LC board, read a statement after the April 30 meeting indicating that at least one item of regular business with which the board dealt concerned allegations of impropriety on the part of LC President Joe Aguillard.

After a daylong meeting, Lee read a handwritten statement to the media; Aguillard was by his side.

"After a long, thorough investigation, the board has exonerated Dr. Aguillard of all allegations that were brought forward in the whistleblower complaints," Lee read. "Concluding the vote, the board, led by Chairman Gene Lee, circled the president, laying hands on him in prayer, asking God for love and unity amongst the board and the administration."

Lee declined to comment on any specifics of the trustee meeting, saying the issues regarding Aguillard took place in executive session. The Baptist Message state newsjournal did learn the vote concerning Aguillard was conducted via ballot rather than a voice vote or show of hands.

Asked by media for comment, Aguillard said, "I just want to say to all of the Louisiana College family and our Louisiana Baptist and other Baptist friends, we look forward to working together in unity and going forward for the best days that Louisiana College has ahead."

Information concerning the whistleblower complaints referenced in Lee's statement was made public by The Town Talk when the daily newspaper in nearby Alexandria reported on and released documents intended to be privileged/confidential information only available to LC board members: a report by a New Orleans law firm and a letter from the sole donor of LC's Caskey School of Divinity. Unnamed sources leaked the documents to The Town Talk.

Other confidential information has been reviewed by the Baptist Message which conveys yet another picture of the controversy.

The Town Talk released the results of the investigation by the law firm of Kinney, Ellinghausen, Richard and DeShazo on April 25 via the paper's website.

LC board chairman Gene Lee commissioned the firm in February to investigate a whistleblower complaint filed in December 2012 by Chuck Quarles, dean of the Caskey School of Divinity. At some point, Tim Johnson, LC's executive vice president for institutional advancement, also filed a whistleblower complaint, but the law firm's report is unclear as to when issues raised by Johnson were actually introduced.

Three complaints were investigated by the Kenny law firm, and according to the report dated March 17, the allegations were confirmed. One allegation investigated and, according to the firm, found to be valid was that Aguillard "intentionally misled the Louisiana College administration, the Board of Trustees, and donors regarding a $10 million pledge from the Cason Foundation."

A second allegation the law firm indicated it investigated and confirmed was that Aguillard "misappropriated Caskey School of Divinity Funds" for expenses related to LC's ministry in Tanzania "and attempted to hide the misappropriation."

The law firm report also states an investigation on a third allegation that was deemed to be valid, that Aguillard "intentionally misled" LC trustees and donors "regarding promised funding for LC Tanzania."

The Kinney law firm report indicates that as part of its investigation it conducted interviews with Edgar Cason of the Cason Foundation; Travis Wright, LC vice president for academic affairs; Fred Jones, attorney and LC professor; and Jim Garlington, pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church in Bentley and a current LC trustee. Quarles and Johnson also were interviewed. The report states that Aguillard declined to be interviewed as part of the investigation.

The Town Talk reported on, and released, a letter written by Edgar Cason to LC trustees indicating his foundation would no longer provide funding for the college's Caskey School of Divinity.

In a letter dated April 15 and released April 25 by The Town Talk, Cason indicated his foundation had, to date, given $5.1 million to LC for the divinity school.

It was believed by some the Cason Foundation was prepared to give upwards of $60 million for the operation of the school. The Baptist Message, however, could not verify any public statements on behalf of Cason stipulating any specific amounts.

"We deeply regret that we must now discontinue that support due to actions of President Aguillard which we believe to be unethical and potentially illegal," Cason wrote to trustees. "We disapprove of his use of Caskey funds for LC Tanzania without our permission and consider this to be misappropriation."

Cason continued, "We have suspected for several months that Dr. Aguillard has been misleading others about our statements and commitments. ... We believe that Dr. Aguillard has told others about pledges to the school which we never made."

The impetus for Cason's letter seems to be the LC board's unwillingness to hear his testimony at the trustees' March 18 meeting. Cason told The Town Talk he had attended a March meeting of the board but said he was not permitted to speak to the board about his concerns.

"I was shocked when I had no opportunity to report to the Board what I had experienced," Cason told The Town Talk. "The Board's disinterest in our testimony suggests that a majority of the Trustees do not wish to know the truth but intend to blindly support Dr. Aguillard despite his behavior that is contrary to Christian principles."

The Town Talk also quoted what founding partner Henry W. Kinney had written on behalf of the law firm: "Our investigation confirms the whistleblower complaints of Dr. Chuck Quarles and Dr. Tim Johnson, and corroborates the Cason's statements."

A special committee was elected by the LC board of trustees to more thoroughly examine the information in the Kinney law firm's report. Those on the committee, according to a report by the Town Talk, were:

-- Kris Chenier, chairman of the committee and pastor of Trinity Heights Baptist Church in Shreveport.

-- Waylon Bailey, president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington.

-- David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

-- Jack Hunter of Metairie, an attorney and executive director of the New Orleans Baptist Association.

-- Gene Lee, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rayne and chairman of the full LC board.

-- Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., and resident of Baton Rouge.

-- Glenn Wilkins, a retired educator from Coushatta.

The Town Talk sought comment from Aguillard on the law firm's conclusions for an April 24 story. The president, responding via email, wrote, "Once a complete documentation of the facts were made available to the committee, which exculpatory evidence was NOT shown or provided for in the New Orleans lawyer's 'report,' I was exonerated of all allegations."

The Town Talk reported that Don Richard, a partner in the New Orleans law firm, responded to Aguillard's comment that documents had been ignored, saying, "I think our report speaks for itself." Richards said the firm "looked at what was given to us. I don't know what he's [Aguillard] talking about."

Aguillard's email also included a statement from Chenier "saying the president had been cleared," The Town Talk reported. "In response to the allegations against Dr. Aguillard," Chenier wrote, "the committee finds that the President has not acted improperly and no further action is needed on this matter."

Committee member Tony Perkins, however, sent an email to Chenier, which was obtained by The Town Talk, saying the information previously given to the newspaper "suggests this action was unanimous. As you know, it was not. It was a 4-3 vote."

The Town Talk reported that Chenier, Bailey, Hankins and Wilkins "reportedly voted in favor of a motion that read: 'In response to the allegations against Dr. Aguillard, the committee finds that the President has not acted improperly and no further action on this matter is needed.' Hunter, Lee and Perkins voted against the motion."

When the Baptist Message spoke to Aguillard after the April 30 board meeting, the first words of the president were, "If all I knew was what had been reported I would probably fire me, too."

"However," Aguillard said, "there is a significant amount of evidence that has not been reported that shows that I did nothing wrong." Aguillard then motioned to a folder approximately one inch thick with documents sitting on a table in his office.

The Baptist Message was allowed to examine the contents of the folder with the understanding that because the information dealt with a personnel issue it should be considered confidential.

After examining the evidence contained in the folder, the Baptist Message saw that ample information existed to dispute the conclusions of the Kinney law firm's report concerning the allegations leveled at Aguillard in the whistleblower complaints.

The folder contained an abundance of information in the form of e-mails, handwritten notes, photographs and more, which contradict statements made to the Kinney law firm during its investigation and, at the very least, cast doubts on the report's conclusions.

It was the evidence contained in the folder that made the difference for at least one member of the special committee, Kris Chenier. "In spite of political pressure, after examining all the evidence made available to me I could not find Dr. Aguillard guilty of the whistleblower allegations," Chenier said in an email to the Baptist Message. "In fact, once I saw all of the information I believed the evidence clearly proved his innocence on the charges."

According to Hankins, the folder in question was made available to the entire LC board of trustees. Additionally, Terry Hoychick, attorney for Aguillard, confirmed that 28 exhibits, all which were in the folder, were given to LC trustee chairman Gene Lee. Hoychick also said Lee indicated the exhibits were made available to the Kinney law firm.

The Baptist Message is awaiting word whether it may be granted permission to report on specific information contained in the folder.

Aguillard said that while he was constrained in discussing all the allegations, he said he could and would discuss one specific allegation of a misappropriation of funds regarding the purchase of two suits valued at $1,000 each while on a trip to Tanzania. He added that he shared the same information on this matter with the LC board.

Aguillard said he and his assistant had traveled to Tanzania to meet with the president of the country and receive a transfer of land that was to be part of the LC Tanzania initiative.

When the pair arrived in Africa they learned the airline had lost their luggage. Aguillard said they had gone three days without a change of clothes. The day arrived for the ceremonial transfer of the land that would be held at the president's home. The luggage was still missing.

A Tanzanian man Aguillard had come to know while working on LC Tanzania took him and his assistant to a department store and purchased a complete suit of clothes, including shoes for both. They later reimbursed the man with money that was Caskey money. However, upon returning, that money was later reimbursed to Caskey.

When the LC board met on April 30, it had an extensive amount of information to consider. Because of the leak of some confidential documents, the public was privy to some of the information the board had to consider, with Aguillard describing the leaked information as extremely damaging.

During the executive session, trustees chose to cast their votes via secret ballots. Board members then took an informal break while the votes were counted. When the votes were tallied, a majority had chosen to exonerate Aguillard of the allegations in the whistleblower complaints.

Though specific vote totals were rumored, no announcement was made and the Baptist Message could not confirm any specific totals.

Prior to the executive session, the LC board was apprised of an anonymous $10 million donation to the college. The official announcement of the gift was made at a news conference on May 1, one day following the board meeting.

During the news conference announcing the $10 million gift, Aguillard said it was the largest single donation in the history of the 106-year-old college. The donation is expected to be given over a five-year period with a "significant amount up front," the president said.

Attorney Terry Hoychick, who handled the donation, said the donors told him the gift was "because of Dr. Aguillard's leadership and [the donors'] belief in him [Aguillard]." Hoychick added, "The donors also felt the Holy Spirit led them to give the gift."

An oversized check was displayed during the meeting and was inscribed with "thank you for your leadership." Aguillard said the donation has few restrictions and will be used for priorities in the college's strategic plan regarding its $50 million capital campaign, Aguillard said, noting, "We will apply this to fast-forward the strategic plan for the institution, which is comprehensive for the school."

Priorities in the plan primarily involve infrastructure, with student housing planned for the $12 million requested from Louisiana Baptist Convention churches over five years.

Aguillard said LC administrators will meet with architects during the week of May 6 to discuss how and when to begin spending the funds.


Kelly Boggs is editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, newsjournal for the 1,600 churches in the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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