Former President of Westfield State to Pay $185,000 Including Triple Damages for Personal Use of School Funds
Evan Dobelle Barred from Working at any Public College or University in Massachusetts; Judgment Requires Dobelle to Dismiss Pending Civil Lawsuit against WSU
BOSTON – The former president of Westfield State University (WSU) has been ordered to pay triple damages and fees totaling $185,000 and no longer work at any public college or university in Massachusetts to settle allegations that he used school-issued credit cards and funds to make personal purchases and take family vacations, Attorney General Maura Healey announced today.
The consent judgment, entered Friday in Suffolk Superior Court, also requires Evan Dobelle to dismiss his breach of contract lawsuit against WSU, currently pending in Hampden County Superior Court. Dobelle previously dismissed a federal lawsuit against several members of WSU’s Board of Trustees and the Commissioner of Higher Education. Further, the judgment prohibits Dobelle from accepting any public higher education position within the Commonwealth.
“Leaders of public colleges and universities must never use their position of authority to undermine the public’s trust,” AG Healey said. “This case demonstrated flagrant misuse of state money for personal benefit. We would like to thank the Office of the Inspector General for their investigation and assistance throughout the course of this case.”
The AG’s Office began its investigation into allegations of improper spending by Dobelle in the fall of 2013, following the issuance of a report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) regarding Dobelle’s misuse of university funds. According to the complaint, filed in August 2014, Dobelle, who served as WSU president from January 2008 until his resignation in November 2013, knowingly submitted to the school false claims for payment of at least $59,000 worth of personal expenses charged on WSU credit cards, and at least $39,000 worth of personal travel expenses he claimed were for official university business.
Dobelle’s conduct allegedly violated the state’s False Claims Act, his employment contract with WSU, applicable WSU policies, and the state’s conflict of interest law.
Review of relevant credit card statements and records revealed Dobelle made hundreds of personal purchases using university credit cards during his six-year tenure, including hotel stays, meals, and plane tickets for himself and his family members, at times totaling thousands of dollars per month.
While Dobelle reimbursed the university for nearly $55,000 in improper personal credit card charges, he often submitted his reimbursements months after he made the purchases. In some instances, Dobelle backdated checks to make his repayments appear timely. The complaint alleged Dobelle knew that WSU policies prohibited this conduct and received several reminders from staff to restrict his use of WSU credit cards to university-related expenses.
The complaint also alleged that Dobelle submitted travel requests for at least 16 university-arranged and paid trips worth more than $39,000 claiming they were for official university business including fundraising, alumni relations, and conferences, when in fact they were primarily personal in nature. The trips included a February 2012 vacation to Cuba with his wife and friends that cost more than $3,640, and multiple trips to California to attend events at the Bohemian Grove, a private men’s social club in Monte Rio, of which Dobelle is a member.
The judgment entered Friday calls for Dobelle to pay the Commonwealth a total of $185,000, which amounts to three times the $44,000 in unreimbursed, personal credit card and travel expenses plus $53,000 in attorney's fees and costs. Of these amounts, WSU will receive $44,000 to reimburse its losses, and the OIG will receive $25,000 toward its costs of investigation. The AG's recovery is separate from the nearly $55,000 Dobelle reimbursed WSU for his personal credit card purchases prior to this litigation.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Julia Bell Andrus and Division Chief Gillian Feiner of AG Healey’s False Claims Division, with assistance from Paralegal Krista Roche, the AG’s Investigation Division, and the staff of the Office of the Inspector General.