Explosive New Robert Felner Scandal Brewing

WHAS11’s Adam Walser has uncovered a story that many commenters on this site have been stewing about over the past several days.

What’s the skinny? Well… turns out someone tightly connected to Robert Felner received a doctoral degree from the University of Louisville without really stepping foot on campus, while holding down a job as a school superintendent in California… in just four months. Yeah, it’s that scandalous.

John Deasy is the guy in question. One of the individuals he thanks for his rapid rise to power is none other than Robert Felner, who was the chair of his doctoral dissertation committee in 2004. But it gets better.

  • He lists the University of New York as a school he attended– but that university doesn’t exist.
  • UofL requires 60 hours of credits toward doctoral research. He had a whopping 9.
  • The title page of Deasy’s dissertation lists the date of May 2003– seven months before enrolling at UofL.
  • During the time he was enrolled at UofL he never missed a bi-monthly school board meeting– in California.
  • Deasy was at the University of Rhode Island for five years as a student but for some reason doesn’t list those classes on his resume. Not surprisingly, the Dean at the College of Education there was none other than Robert Felner.
  • And Deasy’s school district hired Felner’s National Center on Public Education for a study that cost about $120,000 in 2003.

This Felner story just gets crazier and crazier.

We’ll update this story with a link to Walser’s as soon as it hits the WHAS11 website.

CLICK HERE to watch Walser’s story.

Domino Effect of the Felner Investigation

The federal investigation of Robert Felner has finally prompted the University of Rhode Island to review the the finances of the National Center on Public Education and Social Policy. A report is set to be released detailing the findings of the review later this week.

Officials at the University of Rhode Island say they are inspecting the finances of a research center on the Kingston campus founded by a former academic administrator now under federal investigation in Kentucky for fraud.

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“We are reviewing all grants, memoranda, paperwork — anything that had to do with Mr. Felner while he was here, and after,” Weygand said. “We just want to make sure that all management and business aspects were done properly.”

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Weygand said that the URI center, which conducts research and develops school surveys, has about seven employees, down from a high a few years ago of 14. He said that no one had been removed since the university began its investigation.

Weygand said it was not unusual for a center financed through grants to experience cash-flow problems, as grants are often delayed.

“However, how you handle that is what’s important,” Weygand said. “We were very concerned about those [media] reports, so we are reviewing that as part of our investigation.”

Prediction: Every school that has employed Felner will soon launch reviews of everything he touched.

Apologizing For Felner: Ramsey & Willihnganz Speak

Nancy Rodriguez, in a story that yet again perpetuates the myth that the Robert Felner investigation is only about a No Child Left Behind grant, says that University of Louisville President Jim Ramsey apologized for Felner.

Here’s what Ramsey said during a faculty senate meeting on September 3:

“I do understand — fully understand — didn’t appreciate it soon enough, but I fully understand that there are a lot of individuals who have been hurt,” Ramsey said during the Wednesday meeting.
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“There are a lot of individuals who have been deeply scarred, and a lot of individuals who are very disappointed in their university. I am deeply regretful of that, and I alone have to take responsibility for that, and I do. … I should not have ever let that happen, and it did happen,” Ramsey said.

Note that he didn’t apologize for his own actions and wreckless behavior before the press.

Here’s what Provost Shirley Willihnganz said:

“Mostly what I think I want to say is people have been hurt and something very bad happened, and as provost I feel like I am ultimately responsible for that. So to all of you: I’m sorry,” Willihnganz said during the meeting.
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In an interview, Willihnganz categorized the meeting as “hard, but necessary.”

“I think we had an honest conversation,” she said.
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“Something went wrong with the remediation/grievance process,” she said. “Some of the things that people have said are almost certainly grievable offenses. …

“The fear that people had that they would be retaliated against, that the system wouldn’t treat them fairly, that they couldn’t trust the process, that’s wrong.”
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Willihnganz said she was limited in what she could discuss regarding the investigation or personnel matters, and she said at one point that she was trying to “figure out how to not do more harm.”

It’s respectable that these two individuals would put themselves before the faculty senate and loosely apologize. But it’s terrible that they have not apologized for their own actions, their own behavior and their own roles as parts of the problem.

These apologies, while sincere, are not complete.

Written, detailed apologies need to be made public immediately. Every issue raised by commenters on this website needs to be addressed. And every single thing Jim Ramsey and Shirley Willihnganz have said or done– that we have documented– needs to be cleared up.

An outside audit needs to be done at the University from top to bottom. Faculty, staff and students need solid reassurance that their concerns will always be taken seriously and that they will not be retaliated against for speaking up. Everyone who suffered at the hands of Robert Felner and those allied with him while at the University of Louisville needs a deep and personal apology to be publicly made.

Those would be great steps to take.

(NOTE: We’ll have audio of the meeting next week.)

Update: The Berman-Stiglitz Telephone Calls

Funny how that works. You don’t hear back from someone and then you publish a fancy story. Bam. You immediately get their attention and they’re eager to speak with you.

We finally heard from Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Sheldon Berman. Here’s his story and explanation for the plethora of telephone calls with Natalie Stiglitz.

He says he’s been close friends with Stiglitz for about six years and says they go running together at night, which could potentially explain the late-night telephone calls. He says they’re both avid runners.

“I didn’t talk to Natalie about Felner. I can ‘t say a lot about Felner, I met him 6 or 7 times about U of L collaboration issues,” said Berman. Recall that Felner referred to Berman as a friend and as “Shelly” in emails to University of Louisville President Jim Ramsey and Provost Shirley Willihnganz.

Here’s the rest of Berman’s take on his friendship with Stiglitz, “I have tremendous respect for Natalie and her incredible integrity. She’s a national leader in the field, and I would hate to see her reputation destroyed with this. She’s a valuable individual at U of L.”

Dr. Berman added that during the month of June there was a training program going on for 9th grade teachers that Stiglitz coordinated, and that was a reason for more calls at that time.

Many thanks to Berman for following up.

Is This a Look Inside Robert Felner’s Circle?

Everywhere you turn these days there’s a story about Robert Felner, the now-infamous former Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville. The federal investigation surrounding Felner’s shady dealings and decades-long tenure of questionable behavior at various institutions has rocked the world of higher education.

Throughout the past three months we have written nearly 80 stories about the ordeal and many thousands of comments have been left on this website from those who are in-the-know. We have learned all kinds of interesting information about Felner and his past. And we have uncovered potential scandal at the highest levels of the University’s administration.

But the question lingering in the minds of many we speak with on a regular basis at UofL is, “What’s the deal with Felner’s girlfriends and how do they play into all of this?” A good question, indeed.

Many current and former faculty members within the College of Education and Human Development have reported that Felner had several girlfriends and younger women he was close with– people he’d brought into the CEHD. One of those individuals is Natalie Siglitz, director of the Office of Civic Education and Engagement at CEHD.

There’s tons of speculation about Stiglitz and her relationship with Felner. And after filing an open records request at UofL for Stiglitz’s University-paid telephone records, we’re left with nothing but burning questions and healthy suspense.

Read the juicy details of communication involving Sheldon Berman, the Governor’s office and Felner’s attorney after the jump…

Read moreIs This a Look Inside Robert Felner’s Circle?

Point of Interest in the Lawson Indictment

Page 11, #5 of the 22-page indictment.

Check this out:

On or about March 7, 2008, LEONARD V. LAWSON spoke by phone from Florida with James Rummage in Lexington. Among other things, LEONARD V. LAWSON told James Rummage that he shouldn’t worry about the investigation into leaking engineer estimates because (1) he and CHARLES WILLIAM “BILL” NIGHBERT had “covered everything that you said;” (2) that LEONARD V. LAWSON has talked to the Governor about the mistreatment of James Rummage; (3) that the Governor said it was going to stop; (4) that “Youve said what you said and that’s all you need to say;” and (5) that “There’s a lot of people that I know you — a lot of people would dream up stuff to say if they could help you.”

Thoughts?

BREAKING – Leonard Lawson Indicted in Lexington

Just heard it on WHAS11.

Will link ASAP.

UPDATE @ 12:22:

Tom Loftus has a story up, no real details yet:

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A federal grand jury today indicted road contractor Leonard Lawson, former Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert and Brian Russell Billings, an employee of a Lawson company.

Details of the federal investigation into possible bid tampering were laid out in an affidavit by an FBI agent filed in federal court in London last month.

Special Agent T. Clay Mason said in the affidavit that James Rummage, a former Department of Highways engineer, leaked cost estimates of about eight projects to Lawson. The affidavit said Rummage did so at the direction of Nighbert.

UPDATE @ 1:25:

PolWatchers as the 22-page indictment:

A special federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted former state Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert, politically influential road contractor Leonard Lawson and Lawson employee Brian Russell Billings for conspiracy theft from the government and obstruction of justice related to their allegedly rigging bids for road work in the Transportation Cabinet.

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According to the indictment, Lawson, 69, and Nighbert, 57, engaged in a two-year conspiracy to give Lawson’s companies access to confidential cabinet bid estimates. That allowed Lawson to avoid the competitive bidding process by submitting bids at the high end of what the cabinet considered the acceptable price range. Lawson’s projects ended up being worth about $130 million.

According to the indictment, on eight occasions in 2006 and 2007, Nighbert and/or Lawson told cabinet official James Rummage to get the bid estimates — prepared by cabinet engineers — on projects that Lawson wanted. Rummage delivered the estimates to Lawson’s home or office in Lexington five times. The other times, he gave them to Nighbert, who passed them along to Lawson.

Nighbert tried to conceal his favors for Lawson by asking Rummage to also retrieve estimates on unrelated projects as “camouflage,” according to the indictment.

Wow. The KYTC kingdom is slowly crumbling.

UPDATE @ 2:02:

Governor Beshear just provided this statement about the indictments:

“For too long, the important work of the Transportation Cabinet – and of its thousands of conscientious employees – has been tainted by misguided leadership and a culture of cronyism and corruption.

Eliminating this culture, a culture we inherited, has been one of our chief goals – and biggest challenges.

We welcome and have cooperated fully with this federal investigation into the previous administration, recognizing its potential for helping us scrub clean this cabinet.”