Zurik: Observers cry foul over UNO AD's double pay

Zurik: Observers cry foul over UNO AD's double pay

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - While UNO had its budget slashed, one employee decided it was okay to collect two paychecks.

"I think it's a sad commentary," says a local CPA, Patrick Lynch. "It's sickening... sickening to see people exploit the system."

On October 15, 2010, UNO named women's basketball coach Amy Champion its athletic director. Six months later, April of 2011, they announced she would be stepping down from her role as women's basketball coach.

Here's the press release, still on UNO's website, dated April 25, 2011, confirming Champion would no longer be the coach. But still, after the university announced Champion would be stepping down, she continued to receive a paycheck.

These records from UNO show for six months after this press release. She received two paychecks, one for being athletic director and the other for women's basketball coach. All totaled, Champion earned about $20,000 more than she deserved.

Shortly after Peter Fos took over as UNO's president, he ordered an audit of Champion after Athletic Department employees raised some questions about the double pay.

"We learned that Amy was being paid for two jobs," Fos says. "I just told her, I said I don't understand why you're getting paid for two jobs when you're doing one."

That audit came with hundreds of pages of back-up documents detailing interviews, travel records and emails.

So why, if Champion was not functioning as a coach, should she be paid as a coach - with public money, to boot?

“You're misrepresenting that you're doing something and receiving pay for which you haven't delivered any work at all," says Patrick Lynch. 

Lynch reviewed the records. He thinks UNO should take action against Ms. Champion. “If more people would do that, perhaps there'd be less incidences such as these where people are taking advantage of the system,” Lynch says.

The records even include an email from Champion, asking for new business cards without head women's basketball coach. She wanted to drop the old title but didn't want to drop the old paycheck.

“She knows she's being paid for something she's not doing,” Lynch tells us. “Why would you sit back and continue to collect a check?”

In October 2010, UNO appointed Champion athletic director and women's basketball coach. A letter shows her salary was split: $75,000 for being athletic director, $40,000 for coaching. The letter notes, “In the event that you should cease performing the duties of either position, your salary will be reduced accordingly."

This email is one of many that the auditors say show Champion wasn't performing coaching duties but still collected a paycheck.

It notes the travel party for the women's basketball team. Champion is not on the list that week, but she still received her basketball coach pay. Remember, UNO issued that press release in April of 2011, announcing Champion would step down as coach. The audit says from late April 2011 on, she performed no coaching duties.

But Champion waited until October 4, 2011 to write a letter to UNO's acting chancellor that she was resigning as coach. It was only then that the dual paychecks stopped.

We emailed Champion for a comment. She never responded.

In March of 2012, UNO decided not to retain Champion. She now works for a sports construction company in Mississippi.

As to whether UNO should try to get money back from Ms. Champion, Fos says that's up to his bosses, the heads of the University of Louisiana System.

“It wasn't an honest mistake,” Lynch insists. “She knew she wasn't executing the role of head coach, yet she's cashing the paychecks. Where's the mystery there?”

But there's more. UNO's budget only allowed for a certain number of coaches to be paid. So while Champion continued to collect that salary, newly hired assistant coach Alpha English earned nothing.

“He lost out on six, seven months of pay,” Fos says. “I feel very bad for him.”

The audit notes that Champion knew Alpha English had been hired. Champion asked the new basketball coach if she had hired an assistant. The coach replied yes.

“She signed off on his travel vouchers,” Lynch notes. “He was given university equipment July 1, when he started. Everybody knew he was the first guy at the gymnasium to show up for work in the morning. So what is this guy, a homeless person? Sure, she knew it.”

Champion even tried to get the assistant coach to sign off as being a gratis or volunteer coach, months after the university hired him.

“Champion asked him to sign papers that he was working gratis,” Lynch says. “Now, that's evidence that she's trying to cover her trail, isn't it?”

Fos says he tried to get the coach paid, but he says state law wouldn't allow it. “I think it's frustrating that the assistant coach, who worked here on a verbal hire, didn't get paid for the work he actually worked,” he tells us. “I mean, he actually came to work every day, made trips with the team and did his job.”

“What about the person who orchestrated this?” Lynch wonders.

The CPA says university officials should be focusing in more on their former athletic director, who UNO internal auditors say was paid almost $20,000 more than she actually earned.

We asked the UL System why they didn't try to get money back from Champion. They didn't respond. But they did tell us the UL System office received a copy of the UNO internal audit report and was satisfied with the university's response to take corrective action.

Copyright 2015 WVUE. All rights reserved.