Inspector General's Report Details Misspending By Former University President

Aug 1, 2014

Evan Dobelle, who retired as Westfield State University President in Nov. 2013 after allegations surfaced of lavish spending on travel and entertainment.
Evan Dobelle, who retired as Westfield State University President in Nov. 2013 after allegations surfaced of lavish spending on travel and entertainment.
Credit WSU

The Massachusetts Inspector General issued a scathing report Thursday on a former state university president’s use of state funds for personal purposes.  The report raised the likelihood that former Westfield State University President Evan Dobelle will face a criminal investigation.

Massachusetts Inspector General Glenn Cunha, after a yearlong review, concluded Dobelle knowingly and willfully violated university policies by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on travel, entertainment, and personal items and made false or misleading statements in an attempt to justify the expenditures.

Cunha wrote that Dobelle’s lavish and freewheeling spending during his six years as Westfield State president financially crippled the school’s fundraising organization and resulted in little benefit to the public university.  Cunha called Dobelle’s behavior “outrageous.”

" He lied to the board of trustees, encouraged family and friends to falsify travel documents, and taking these unwarranted privileges such as having Westfield State pay for his personal travel."

The 71-page report details more than 20 examples of misconduct by Dobelle, who retired in November 2013.  Among the inspector general’s findings:

  • Dobelle made several trips to San Francisco where he told school officials he was meeting with potential donors. But the trips coincided with gatherings by the Bohemian Club -- a private all-male club where Dobelle is a member. The potential donors Dobelle identified told investigators they either never met with him, or the meetings were strictly social.
  • When Dobelle traveled to Cuba in 2013 with the Westfield State baseball team he brought along six friends and had them falsely claim to be faculty members to skirt the U.S. travel ban to Cuba.
  • Dobelle claimed his overseas travels had attracted 123 international students to Westfield State, bringing in $1.2 million a year. But,most of these “international students” are non-U.S. citizens who are permanent residents of Massachusetts and pay in-state tuition rates.

Cunha found that Dobelle, whose salary was more than $240,000, charged the university nearly $59,000 in 2009 and 2010 for personal items including two Kindles, a digital Nikon camera, and an Apple laptop computer. None of the items were in the possession of the school.

" The most important take away is that his reckless spending violated the trust of the students and faculty, the board of trustees and the taxpayers," Cunha said in an interview.

The inspector general is barred from disclosing if he referred the report to federal or state prosecutors.

A spokesman for Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said the prosecutor’s office has been briefed on the inspector general’s report, has been conducting its own investigation and anticipates additional action soon.

Dobelle could not be reached for comment. Last year, he answered critics of his spending habits in a video produced by a public relations firm Dobelle hired to represent him.

"For all this to come back anonymously years later and have this great investigation with sensational headlines, I find extremely troubling," said Dobelle last fall.

Dobelle, a former mayor of Pittsfield, has filed a federal court lawsuit against the former president of the Westfield State Board of Trustees and Massachusetts Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland. The suit claims Dobelle’s civil rights were violated when the board, under pressure from Freeland, put him on paid leave last October. Dobelle retired a month later.

Westfield State , in a statement on the university’s website, said significant reforms had taken place in the school’s financial practices.  It no longer issues credit cards to employees.