CSU Chancellor’s Office in Long Beach
The same week that an audit he had requested revealed dozens of questionable travel expenses from an employee in a department he oversaw, the California State University system’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Benjamin F. Quillian quietly retired.
Quillian’s retirement was first revealed not by the CSU, which often announces the departures of top officials, but by the Statewide University Police Association (SUPA), whose president Jeff Solomon sent out an official press release Tuesday calling for a full criminal investigation into the findings of the recent audit.
“[Solomon failed to mention that] Dr. Quillian recently shared with CSU leadership that he planned on retiring this year,” said Michael Uhlenkamp of the CSU, responding to the release which called Quillian’s retirement a response to “alleged involvement in a massive embezzlement scam.” “As we made clear in our announcement of the audit findings, Dr. Quillian was the individual at the Chancellor’s Office who actually requested the audit. His retirement has nothing to do with the resulting report. It is unfortunate and frankly shameful that [SUPA] would resort to this type of mischaracterization[.]“
The audit, released last week and published below, indicated that a single worker from the CSU’s Risk Management Authority (RMA) had incurred thousands of dollars in questionable travel expenses between July of 2010 and September of 2012. According to SUPA, Quillian was responsible for signing off on travel expenditures for the Risk Management Authority, which is overseen by Assistant Vice Chancellor Charlene Minnick, the employee who several CSU sources say is the one pointed to in the audit. Minnick is currently on leave.
The accusations indicated by the Office of the University Auditor were based on a review of some 146 travel expense claims made by a single, unnamed RMA employee which totaled $158,994. Overall, the audit stated the claims were “often questionable, illogical and outside the parameters of the duties/responsibilities of the risk management employee as defined in the position description.”
Discovered through the audit were the employee’s questionable car rental procedures, hotel check-ins, flights and approved travel forms.
In 43 of 82 instances when the employee-in-question claimed to be in San Francisco visiting Alliant, a RMA contractor, auditors found no corresponding parking ticket where the employee usually parked. These trips were also questionably short, with 61 of the 82 instances showing that the employee picked up a rental car after 4PM, indicating that it was unlikely said employee was conducting any actual CSU business that day. In several instances, despite the employee saying work was done, a rental car wasn’t picked up until after 6PM or 7PM. In three instances, the rental car was returned before 10:30AM and in 22 instances, it was returned before 1PM, further indicating to auditors that work was not properly conducted.
Multiple trips had shown the employee would check into a hotel in Walnut Creek–25 miles northeast of San Francisco–after flying into SFO and claiming business in downtown San Francisco.
In one of the more egregious claims, the employee drove the 25 miles from their home in Long Beach to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), boarded a plane to San Diego and rented a car once there, ultimately spending more time and money for travel than if the employee had made the two-hour drive. Oftentimes, the employee would claim it took two to five hours to get from their Long Beach residence to LAX, resulting in payments for hours not necessarily worked.
Despite signed travel form approvals that indicated the costs of the travels, the total cost of travel expenses was 12% higher than indicated on the forms. For example, the employee’s trip to Israel and Ghana in November of 2011 was estimated to cost $7,000 but actually ended up costing $10,432. A March 2012 trip to London, estimated to cost $3,000, cost almost double that, at $5,890.
The CSU refused to officially state whether Minnick was the one specifically indicated in the audit’s findings.
“It is a personnel issue and we will not be discussing the identity of the employee in the audit,” said Uhlenkamp. “One thing to point out is that unfortunately we do not have any way to quantify the actual amount of inappropriate expenditures; the report simply provides examples of questionable expenditures. Over $150,000 was the total of the expenses during the period that the audit team reviewed, but it is an inaccurate amount to refer to as ‘cost extorted.’ This is not to excuse the behavior but a clarification that many of the expenses including the international travel were part of legitimate CSU business.”
The audit also stated there was weak “fiscal, operational, and administrative controls for [the RMA]” and that the employee abused “outdated policies and procedures for investment and other major activities, an outdated conflict-of-interest code, a lack of delegated authority to approve expenditures, questionable travel expenses and administration of the claims settlement process.”
“The CSU places great importance on funding provided by the state and our students and it is critical that we use each and every dollar in the most appropriate way to serve students and fulfill our mission,” CSU Chancellor Timothy White, who took office in December of last year, said in a statement.
If the accusations are proven to be true, charges of embezzlement could be brought against the employee.
Read the full audit below: