U of L chairman: Dunn probe not a 'scandal'

Andrew Wolfson
Louisville Courier Journal

The chairman of the University of Louisville's board of trustees said Thursday that the FBI's investigation of top health care executive Dr. David Dunn and two other officials does not constitute a “scandal.”

" ‘Scandal’ is a Thursday night TV show,” Larry Benz said.

He said  university President James Ramsey has the board's full support, and Ramsey said he has no plans to resign in the wake of the controversy, in which U of L was forced to put Dunn and another executive on leave after the CJ reported the FBI is investigating whether they misused federal funds.

Speaking to reporters after a previously scheduled executive committee meeting, Benz declined to say if additional employees are under investigation or discuss the allegations. But he said the review, which started 17 months ago, is “closer to the end than the beginning” and likely will be completed in “a matter of months.”

U of L execs under investigation put on leave

He also declined to say why the university waited until Wednesday – the day after the CJ reported that the FBI and university police were investigating Dunn and chief information officer Priscilla Hancock – to put them on paid leave.

“Draw your own conclusions,” he said.

The CJ reported that the FBI and U of L police are exploring whether Dunn, Hancock and Dunn’s former top aide, Dr. Russell Bessette, used federal funds for non-university purposes. Bessette resigned from the university in January 2014.

Bessette declined to comment on the investigation, as did attorneys for Hancock and Dunn.

Benz said that various crimes and other embarrassments for the university over the past few years are not connected and that they have received disproportionate attention because of the media’s “negativity bias.”

“This is not what the university is about,” he said. “It is about academics, research and community engagement.”

Dunn and Hancock have been placed on leave with pay. Dunn’s salary is $809,024 and Hancock’s $323,925, according to the university. Bessette, formerly the associate vice president for health affairs, was paid $323,400 in 2014. He and Dunn are both physicians.

Ramsey hired Dunn away from SUNY Buffalo in 2011.

The university Thursday released a letter showing that Bessette resigned effective Jan. 31, 2014. Dunn said in the letter that "it is regrettable that we find ourselves at a juncture where there does not appear to be the best match between your considerable talents and the future demands of the Health Sciences Center."

Dunn authorized 90 days' salary for Bessette "in lieu of notice" and to ease the transition for him and the school. They were partners in a medical information business that Bessette developed when they were both in Buffalo.

Sources: FBI investigating 3 U of L officials

U of L is currently awaiting the results of an NCAA investigation into allegations that basketball recruits and players were provided prostitutes paid for by former employee Andre McGee.

Ramsey also recently had to apologize repeatedly after he and his staff dressed in stereotypical Mexican costumes at a Halloween party at the president’s mansion. And last month, U of L’s director of alumni relations, Deborah Dietzler, resigned after disclosures that she was accused of misusing funds at her last job, at the University of Georgia.

From 2008 through 2014, authorities alleged that U of L employees stole, misspent or mishandled at least $7.6 million at the health science campus, the law school, the business school and the athletic department's ticket office.

Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at (502) 582-7189 or awolfson@courier-journal.com.