Published Thu, Nov 22, 2012 12:00 AM
By Anne Blythe – email@example.com
Investigators with the SBI have been poring over email, conducting interviews and reviewing financial documents as they probe whether laws were broken in relation to the UNC-Chapel Hill academic scandal.
Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall said Wednesday the investigation is focused primarily on the African-American studies department, where athletes were enrolled in no-show classes. Among some of the matters being investigated are potential fraud, forgery, misuse of state property and putting false information on state documents.
Woodall launched the investigation in May and has said he expected to have answers in October to whether criminal charges were warranted.
Now, Woodall says the investigation will wrap up no sooner than early next year.
“As we’ve gone along, we’ve realized there were more issues to look at than we originally thought,” Woodall said.
Woodall’s update comes after Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Republican from New Hanover County and a UNC-Chapel Hill law school graduate, raised concerns about the depth of the corrupting influence of big-money sports on university academics.
Mary Willingham, a longtime member of the academic counseling program, told The News & Observer last week that she had complained years ago about the academic support program providing improper help and tolerating plagiarism from athletes.
Goolsby, a member of the state Senate committee on education, posted an entry on his Carolina Columns blog on Tuesday.
“The UNC academic fraud scandal is like a pesky staph infection that just won’t go away for university officials – nor should it,” Goolsby wrote.
He wrote further: “The reputation of the state’s flagship university is at stake and someone must take this matter seriously. Any prosecutor worth his salt would turn detectives loose on staff and administrators involved in the fraud and subsequent cover-up. If necessary, the General Assembly could consider legislation to make prosecuting this type of academic fraud easier.”
Goolsby got a call from Woodall after he wrote his post.
“I’m glad to hear the Orange County district attorney is serious about this,” Goolsby said. “The update from him made me feel better.”
The SBI investigation is one of four launched in the wake of an NCAA probe that turned up improper academic help from a tutor to football players. It also found improper benefits given to players by agents.
The NCAA put the UNC football team on probation, but some have called for the overseers of college sports programs to send its investigators back to campus in light of the expanding revelations of academic misconduct.
Woodall said one SBI agent is assigned full time to the UNC-CH case. That agent has other investigators he can call on for help and has done so, Woodall said.
Their probe has netted hundreds of thousands of emails that they have narrowed down to about 90,000 for closer review.
Woodall cautioned that a lengthy probe doesn’t necessarily mean criminal activity has been found.
“If there are clear, substantial violations of the law, then we’ll bring charges,” Woodall said. “And as in the case of any prosecutor, if there are not, we will not.”
Goolsby said if it turns out that all the problems reported at UNC-CH do not constitute a crime, he plans to propose new or stronger laws.
“What’s being reported is long-term conduct that nobody can justify,” Goolsby said. “We’ve just got to do something as lawmakers to deal with it.”