Bowie funding director removed University system targets foundation's troubled finances; Davis' credentials in doubt


State officials acted swiftly yesterday to remove the head of Bowie State University's fund-raising foundation and vowed to clean up tangled financial problems at the organization.

Russell A. Davis, who was director of the Bowie State University Foundation, also faces a state investigation into whether he lied about his academic credentials when he applied for a job at the university, said John Lippincott, a spokesman for the University System of Maryland.

Davis told Bowie State officials that he had a master's degree and doctorate in education from the University of Maryland at College Park. But officials there say they have no record of him earning the degrees.

"Academic credentials are important to anyone in the position like his, and if it turns out that he does not have the credentials, it will be a very serious matter," said the system's chancellor, Donald N. Langenberg.

Davis earns $82,500 a year as vice president for student affairs at the Prince George's County school, and since January, he had also been interim executive director of its nonprofit fund-raising organization.

Last month, under Davis' leadership, the foundation launched a high-profile campaign for $10 million in donations to provide scholarships for students and to improve the university.

Concerns about Davis arose after The Sun reported yesterday that he was selected in January to fix financial problems at the foundation despite a trail of bounced checks, overdue taxes and loan defaults in his own financial history.

Officials at the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said yesterday that they have forwarded a warrant for Davis' "immediate" arrest in connection with a charge that he failed to return a rental car in 1991.

Calls to Davis and to Bowie State President Nathanael Pollard Jr. were not returned yesterday.

Langenberg was hesitant to criticize Pollard for recommending Davis as the foundation's interim executive director, even though court records show that Pollard was sent a letter four years ago warning him that Davis improperly took $3,873 in 1993 from another nonprofit organization that he led.

"I'm not going to second-guess Dr. Pollard, but I think it was an open question as to whether he knew about any of these allegations," Langenberg said. "We also do not know if there is any substance to them."

At Pollard's request, Joyce Romanoff Marx, vice president for finance of the larger College Park-based University of Maryland Foundation, will replace Davis as interim executive director. Marx, who has been a certified public accountant for 19 years, has a reputation as a stern financial manager. The Bowie State foundation's board must approve her appointment.

Investigation ordered

Meanwhile, Langenberg has ordered an investigation into the foundation's finances.

An annual audit by the Baltimore accounting firm King, King and Associates, released last week, says the foundation overspent its general operating budget, or "unrestricted funds," by $63,869 in fiscal 1997.

The foundation improperly used restricted scholarship and campus activity money to cover the deficit, the audit states.

To more thoroughly investigate these problems, Langenberg ordered the university system's internal auditor, Alfred S. Chavez Jr., to conduct an inquiry.

"This is very significant and something that we need to follow up on and fully intend to follow up on," Langenberg said. "We will be doing a full and thorough audit of the foundation, and we will find out whether appropriate steps have been taken to remedy the situation."

In addition to Langenberg's investigation, the U.S. Department of Education has asked its inspector general to review the case because of allegations in the audit report that Bowie State improperly withdrew $34,407 from a grant endowment account.

"They just can't ignore any alleged misuse of federal funding," said Roger Murphey, an Education Department spokesman.

Davis' selection

Pollard recommended that the foundation's board select Davis to clean up the organization's finances in January after concerns arose about the way the foundation was spending its money.

The foundation's board had removed executive director Avis Pointer after donors and trustees started calling with questions about how the foundation was handling money.

Pollard turned to Davis, 39, despite the fact that the Maryland Association of Multicultural Counseling and Development, a nonprofit organization that holds conferences on cultural diversity at Bowie State, had warned the president in a letter that Davis had improperly taken $3,873 from the group while he was its president in 1992-1993.

The association successfully sued Davis after he refused to repay the money. The organization now receives a portion of Davis' pay as part of a court judgment against him.

In addition, according to court records, Davis has failed to pay federal taxes; has been sued six times for a total of $43,298 in bad debts since 1990; has defaulted on more than $16,000 in student loans; and has written bad checks for such items as state vehicle taxes, a bank withdrawal and $3,140 in rent. Davis has said he has repaid almost all these debts.

Several of them were detailed in a bankruptcy case Davis filed in 1991. The case was dismissed after Davis failed to file the proper paperwork, according to court records.

Series of misfortunes

Davis said in earlier interviews that the troubles resulted from a series of misfortunes, including a foreclosure on a family home he was trying to save. He admitted taking the money from the multicultural association but said he did so because he and others didn't like the way the group had been distributing scholarship money.

In response to the allegation that he failed to return an Avis Rent-A-Car, Davis said that it was returned and he repaid the rental company. He said he never resolved the matter with the court.

Lance Billingsley, chairman of the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents, which approves affiliation agreements between the system and foundations, said he also plans an investigation. He wants the regents' audit committee to look into the foundation's finances.

"If you want to have your foundation affiliated with the university, you better clean up your act," he said.

John K. Martin, president of the University of Maryland Foundation, which oversees all of the system's nonprofit fund-raising groups, said that his staff will help Bowie State resolve its accounting problems. Martin insisted that none of the troubles -- including Davis' appointment to head the foundation -- reflected on Pollard's leadership.

"I think Dr. Davis was always an interim step on the part of the university," Martin said. "I don't think it was ever, ever the intention of the president to make that a permanent assignment. He probably knew he didn't have accounting skills."

Unexpected news

Donors who have given money to the Bowie State University Foundation said they were shocked to learn that Davis had been removed after concerns were raised about his past problems handling money.

"Really? Dr. Davis? That is really a shame. This is the first I'm hearing of this," said Barbara Butler, a retired teacher who graduated from Bowie in 1964 and is a member of the "President's Club," a group of donors to the university foundation.

Butler said she was especially troubled to hear that the foundation had improperly spent restricted funds.

"Generally, when my husband and I donate money, we always restrict it for scholarships because I'd like to pave the way for underprivileged students to attend the university," she said. "If this problem is, in fact, occurring, I'd like to call Dr. Pollard and speak to him directly to get some answers."

Pub Date: 5/13/98

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