Florida A&M University is investigating the improper transfer of up to $3 million to cover shortfalls in its athletics department. The school made the disclosure Thursday to the state university governing board and it's started an internal investigation.
The transfer of money from university auxiliary funds to athletics is barred by the Florida Board of Governors. Florida A&M University has fired its Budget Director Ronica Mathis and Comptroller Tiffany Holmes. At one point, Mathis oversaw the budget for the school’s athletics program. Chief Financial Officer Wanda Ford quit Friday. University trustee chair Kelvin Lawson told the BOG the illegal transfers were discovered through a routine audit. He called the situation a system failure.
“We agree it’s unacceptable and the leadership team has taken swift action to deal with the people side of this, the system side of this and…look at our internal processes because as tight as we thought they were, they failed," he said.
Lawson says the amount transferred is between $1.5 and $3 million. FAMU had procedures in place regulating the transfer of funds which involved the CFO and University President to sign off, but President Larry Robinson says he never saw the paperwork.
“I don’t know why," Robinson said. "We would meet every month on this issue and one of the recurring questions was…'are these funds coming from the appropriate places'…and the answer was always yes."
An independent audit firm is being hired to investigate. The transfers appear to have been occurring since 2016. For years, FAMU had been covering athletics deficits for years using auxiliary funds. It’s in the process of repaying some $8 million owed to campus programs liking the bookstore and dining hall. The Athletics department is presently dealing with a $300,000 shortfall. Board of Governors member Kent Sturman called the situation disappointing and unacceptable. But fellow board member Alan Levine did commend FAMU for coming forward with the news:
“The reaction from university leadership today is very different from a few years ago. And while it needs to be improved, I think we need to state the positive. And I will.”
In May the NCAA placed the athletics department on a five-year probation for improperly certifying 93 students between 2010-2017 who were academically ineligible to play in 12 sports.