UH athletic department spends $622K on travel, events, meals

Published: Oct. 9, 2012 at 10:49 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 10, 2012 at 10:51 AM HST
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MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Documents released by the University of Hawaii show former UH Athletics Director Jim Donovan spent more than $622,000 of donated UH funds on travel, meals, drinks and other events for himself, his staff, the media, supporters and athletic boosters over the last four and a half years.

The money came from the UH Foundation, funds donated by alumni and university supporters that are supposed to promote the mission of the athletic department.

In August, the UH Foundation paid $1,894 for an end-of-year barbeque for the UH athletics coaches and staff on the UH Manoa campus, "in appreciation of hard work, great customer service and going 'beyond the call' throughout the year," according to documents released under the state's open records law. Hawaii News Now asked for UH Foundation athletic department expenses on Aug. 28 and the university released about 2,500 documents Tuesday, after UH officials redacted the names of students and donors.

When this year's final four basketball tournament was held earlier this year in New Orleans, the UH foundation paid $4,640 for UH athletics director Jim Donovan to attend. But he also sent four of his staffers in the athletic department.

They were: UH Arena manager Rich Sheriff, Associate Athletic Director John McNamara, UH ticket manager Walter Watanabe and Internet Specialist Troy Yamamoto.  Total price for the foundation for the four staffers' air, hotel, meals and tournament tickets: more than $15,000.

Donovan told Hawaii News Now he used UH Foundation money to send staffers to the event to give them an opportunity to see how a large NCAA event like that is run, something Donovan claimed is helpful since UH hosts NCAA events from time to time.  He sent four staffers to the tournament in 2011 as well.

"It's for staff to experience one of the best NCAA events that there is," Donovan said.  "It's to see how other people do it and learn from them."

Donovan was reimbursed for $16,449 for six trips in 2012 before he was removed as AD in August, the records revealed.  The UH Foundation paid for Donovan's secretary to make several trips to the mainland for, among other things, the UH-San Jose football game in Oct. of 2011 and the Western Athletic Conference Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas in 2012.

Annual totals of UH Foundation funds used for athletic department-related expenses were approximately: $87,700 in 2008; $133,226 in 2009; $77,727 in 2010; $221,600 in 2011 and $101,756 so far in 2012, according to the documents released by UH.

They show Donovan worked to curry favor with members of the media, his own staff, politicians, UH athletics department donors and others by taking them to meals which the UH Foundation paid for.  The restaurants where they dined ranged from Zippy's to much pricier Alan Wong's, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Kahala Hotel, Gordon Biersch and The Pineapple Room restaurants.

Donovan took his wife Tracy, who is also a UH employee, to some receptions, dinners and banquets. "I brought Tracy along for events when the spouses of others were also invited," Donovan said.

Documents reveal Donovan and top UH coaches attended Gov. Neil Abercrombie's inaugural ball in December of 2010, buying a table with UH Foundation funds costing $2,500.

The foundation spent $10,000 more buying other tables at Abercrombie's event for UH and for the Board of Regents.

Donovan told Hawaii News Now, "All those expenses were approved by the foundation. If they rejected them, I paid for it." Donovan's salary as athletics director was $240,000.

The foundation did reject some of his expenses, including a $72 bill for a fruit assortment from Edible Arrangements sent to UH VP for Academic Planning and Policy Linda Johnsrud in 2009 to congratulate her after she was selected as Pacific Business News' businesswoman of the year.

Donovan's request for reimbursement for $104, covering a portion of the bill for his dinner with then head football coach Greg McMackin in 2010 was also denied.  The dinner, at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Salt Lake City, Utah, was to discuss the Western Athletic Conference and prepare for WAC media day, according to the reimbursement receipt.

Less expensive meals with Associate Athletic Director Carl Clapp ($35 at Sushi King) and drinks with Sheriff and UH Athletic Department equipment manager Al Ginoza ($17.90 at Joe's Crab Shack in Boise, Idaho), were not approved by the foundation in 2010.

Foundation officials also rejected a $15 receipt for candy purchased from Nieman Marcus for the candy bowl at the UH athletic department.

An internal audit is underway looking at the foundation expenses and other spending during Donovan's time as AD.

UH President MRC Greenwood released a statement that said, "While these reimbursements were made in accordance with established policies and after full review, and the majority were clearly appropriate, legitimate questions can be raised as to the judgment exercised in some instances."

"These expenditures went through an established review process in the Athletics Department, UH Foundation and, in some cases, the Manoa Chancellor's office. Expenses that were determined to be legitimate business expenses were reimbursed. In a few cases, expenses were determined not to be reimbursable," Greenwood said.

"Expenditures of foundation funds are within the scope of the audit of UH Manoa Athletics Department currently being conducted by the university's internal auditor. When the audit is complete it will be reported to the Board [of Regents] audit committee and any recommended corrective action will be taken," Greenwood added.

Receipts for gift baskets, travel by employees to some away games, banquets, golf tournaments and other costs were all covered by UH Foundation funds, according to the documents representing expenses from 2008 to the present.

Donovan was reimbursed for a $136 Costco purchase of a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne for a business executive that sources said is indicative of a double standard because other UH officials who've put through receipts for alcohol purchases as gifts have had them rejected by UH Foundation fiscal managers.

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