By Kelly Boggs, Editor
PINEVILLE – The Louisiana College 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 meeting of the board on March 19.
Gene Lee, chairman of the LC board, read a statement after the most recent trustee meeting that indicated 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 hand-written 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 did learn the vote concerning Aguillard was conducted via ballot rather than a voice vote or show of hands.
When 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 Alexandria’s daily newspaper released and reported documents that were intended to be privileged information only available to LC board members.
The documents, which consisted of a report by a New Orleans law firm and a letter from the sole donor of the Caskey School of Divinity, were provided to LC trustees and were deemed to be confidential. Unnamed sources leaked the documents to The Town Talk.
The Town Talk released the results of an independent investigation conducted 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, executive vice president for institutional advancement at LC, also filed a whistleblower complaint, but the law firm’s report is unclear as to when Johnson’s report was actually introduced.
Three complaints were investigated by the Kenny law firm, and according to the report dated March 17, 2013, the allegations were confirmed. One allegation investigated and, according to the firm, was 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 the LC president “misappropriated Caskey School of Divinity Funds for expenses related to LC 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” the LC trustees and LC 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 Bentley and current LC trustee. Quarles and Johnson were also interviewed. The report also 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 school’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 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 to the trustees seems to be the LC board’s unwillingness to hear his testimony at the March 18 trustee meeting. He 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.”
“‘Our investigation confirms the whistleblower complaints of Dr. Chuck Quarles and Dr. Tim Johnson, and corroborates the Cason’s statements,’” founding partner Henry W. Kinney wrote on behalf of the law firm,” The Town Talk reported.
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 in a report which was published on April 24. The president responded via email and 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.”
“Don Richard, a partner in the New Orleans law firm, responded to Aguillard’s comment that documents had been ignored,” according to the Town Talk. “I think our report speaks for itself,” Richard said. “We 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,” reported The Town Talk. “In response to the allegations against Dr. Aguillard, the committee finds that the President has not acted improperly and no further action is needed on this matter,” Chenier wrote.
Special committee member Tony Perkins felt the statements from Aguillard and Chenier were disingenuous. Perkins sent an email to Chenier, which The Town Talk obtained, 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.”
“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,” The Town Talk reported.
When the Baptist Message spoke to Aguillard after the recent board meeting, the first words out of the president’s mouth 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.” The president then motioned to a folder approximately one inch thick with documents sitting on the coffee 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 had to conclude that information exists that seems to dispute the conclusions of the Kinney law firm’s report concerning the allegations leveled at Aguillard in the whistleblower complaints.
The folder contained information in the form of e-mails, hand written 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. “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,” Kris 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.”
The folder in question, with the information supporting Aguillard, was available to the special committee charged with investigating the Kinney law firm’s report. According to Hankins it was also made available to the entire LC board of trustees.
Additionally, Terry Hoychick, attorney for Aguillard, confirmed that 28 exhibits, all which were present in the folder, were given to LC Chairman of the Board Gene Lee. Hoychick also said Lee indicated the exhibits were made available to the Kinney law firm.
It is possible the Baptist Message might be granted permission to report on specific information contained in the folder in question.
Aguillard said that while he was constrained in discussing all the allegations, he said he could and would discuss one specific allegation, which concerned a misappropriation of funds with regard to 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. The purpose of the trip was to meet with the president of the country and received a transfer of land that was to be part of LC Tanzania.
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 Tuesday, April 30, it had much information to consider, more information than there is space for in this report.
Because of the leak of some confidential documents, the public was privy to some of the information the board had to consider. Even the LC president admitted the leaked information was extremely damaging.
However, there was other information available to not only the special committee, but also the entire board that seemed to answer the allegations raised in the whistleblower complaints. In all, the board had a tremendous amount of information to consider.
During the executive session the members of the LC board chose to cast their votes via “secret” ballots. After voting, board members took an informal break while the votes were counted. When the votes were tallied a majority had chosen to exonerate Aguillard of all 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 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 his [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.” The donation will be used for priorities in the school’s strategic plan regarding the school’s capital campaign, Aguillard said.
The gift had few restrictions and some of the money can be applied to the school’s $50 million capital campaign. “We will apply this to fast-forward the strategic plan for the institution, which is comprehensive for the school,” Aguillard said.
Priorities in the plan lie primarily with infrastructure, with student housing planned for the $12 million requested from Louisiana Baptist Convention churches over five years.
Aguillard said school administrators will meet early next week with architects to discuss how and when to begin spending the funds.
The April 30 LC trustee meeting with its vote to exonerate President Aguillard of all charges alleged in two whistleblower complaints and the announcement of a $10 million gift caps a tumultuous four months for the Pineville school.