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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bishop College's former financial aid chief, 13 others, accused of theft

Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. announced charges Tuesday against 14 people in the alleged theft of more than $45,000 in federal financial aid from Bishop State Community College.

The Mobile college's former financial aid head, Charles Weymon Holloway, was charged in connection with more than $14,000 of that amount. Thirteen of the 14 charged are college employees.

The announcement comes two days before college President Yvonne Kennedy was expected to appear before the state school board to defend her job. But Renee Culverhouse, who requested Kennedy's presence, resigned as interim chancellor on Tuesday, and it remained unclear late Tuesday what effect that might have on the Thursday meeting.

"I have conferred with the president, and the college has no official statement with reference to the arrests," college spokesman Herb Jordan said Tuesday. "Prayers go out to all who are affected by today's announcement."

Jordan declined to answer further questions about the charges or say whether Kennedy planned to appear before the state school board Thursday.

Tyson's office had previously charged 13 other people with theft from Bishop State. With the addition of today's charges, a total of 27 people are accused of stealing more than $201,000 in financial aid and sports program money from Bishop State, according to Tyson's office.

"I think almost every single employee in the financial aid office has been caught up in this at this point," Tyson said. "Not every last one, but virtually every last one."

Financial and academic practices at the college have also come under the scrutiny of the FBI, the state's two-year college system, the U.S. Department of Education and Bishop State's accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS.

SACS has placed Bishop State on probation, though the school remains accredited.

Kennedy has not been charged, and her lawyer, J. Cecil Gardner, has said there is no cause for her removal as president.

"Just because someone hasn't been indicted does not mean they shouldn't be fired," said Randy McKinney of Orange Beach, one of three Republicans on the nine-member state school board to have called for Kennedy's removal as president.

Kennedy, a Democrat, represents parts of Mobile in the Alabama House.

McKinney said that Tuesday's charges underscore Bishop State's problems.

"I think it's just a further indication of a leadership void that has existed at Bishop State Community College for several years," McKinney said.

He added that he is not sure how Culverhouse's sudden resignation Tuesday might affect efforts to remove Kennedy but said it could "unfortunately" cause further delays.

Tyson in his Tuesday news conference noted that Holloway is "the most senior official" at Bishop State that has been charged, adding that charge was "probably the most disappointing."

The $14,646 that Holloway is charged with stealing is the second highest amount in this third round of arrests.

Holloway was removed last October as director of financial aid at the college, but continued as director of the school's Carver campus.

Tyson said that while his investigation into Bishop State financial aid is not yet over, the end could be near.

"We'll be finished, maybe, by next week," Tyson said, adding that any new revelations could prolong the investigation.

Tyson declined to comment on whether he had any evidence against Kennedy.

"When and if we obtain probable cause to believe that she committed a crime, then you will hear about it," Tyson said. "It's probably not appropriate for me to comment on ... whether or not there is any evidence."

In January, Tyson said he did not have a "shred of evidence that implicates Dr. Kennedy in a crime."

Tyson said Tuesday that his refusal to talk about whether evidence has been found to implicate Kennedy was not meant to suggest any change in her status.

"I just simply am trying to be faithful to the standards that I'm supposed to operate under," he said.

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