Auburn AD Jay Jacobs talks about his plans for Auburn athletics for the 2016.
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AUBURN – Add the Auburn football program to the list of sports that are under an independent investigation by a Birmingham law firm following an accusation of academic fraud.
ESPN reported Wednesday afternoon that an unidentified source claimed a mentor in Auburn’s athletic student services department took an online final exam for at least one former football player. An Auburn spokesperson confirmed to the Montgomery Advertiser that the student-athlete in question “is not a member of the current team and was not a member of the team at the time of the allegation” but yet was “a former player who came back to school to complete his degree.”
The same university spokesperson for the school’s athletic department confirmed to the Montgomery Advertiser that the law firm of Lightfoot, Franklin & White of Birmingham was hired on Aug. 31, but reiterated the allegations reported first by ESPN are “false.”
“The player for which we are conducting an investigation is not a member of the current team and was not a member of the team at the time of the allegation,” the university statement reads. “He is a former player who came back to school to complete his degree. As you know from our statement he categorically denies the claim. The allegation made in the ESPN story is false based on our review to date. The person making the accusation was a part-time employee placed on administrative leave in late August. She is making claims not supported by facts, and based on what ESPN told us this morning, before the story came out, she keeps changing her story. Neither she, her attorney, nor our investigation have produced anything to support her claims. Neither has ESPN. It should also be noted that the accuser has signed thirty-eight bi-monthly time sheets during her part-time employment stating that she has no knowledge or has not witnessed or assisted a student-athlete in participating in academic dishonesty. She has also signed compliance forms indicating no knowledge of wrongdoing. We have no reason to think the allegation about the former student is true.”
Later Wednesday evening, ESPN edited its report to say the player in question was on the 2015 team.
In August, the same month as when this football academic fraud charge was reportedly made, Auburn athletics hired the same law firm as an objective third party to oversee the school’s internal Title IX investigation into the softball program.
Former Auburn softball player Alex Nemeth is alleging multiple sexual harassment violations and an organized cover-up by both then-head coach Clint Myers and then-assistant coach Corey Myers in a detailed 14-page Title IX complaint.
Auburn confirmed the hiring of the same law firm last month to investigate the men’s basketball program following the arrest and charges of assistant coach Chuck Person.
Person was arrested and charged with six federal crimes including bribery conspiracy, solicitation of bribes and gratuities, conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and travel act conspiracy.
According to federal documents detailing the FBI investigation into corruption involving pay-for-play schemes of several college basketball coaches,
Person allegedly received $91,500 in bribery payments in a scheme to steer two unnamed Auburn players to a certain agents and financial advisers.
Person and Rashan Michel, a former NBA and NCAA official and current custom clothing distributor, who is also named as a defendant in the charges, agreed to accept approximately $50,000 in bribe payments from an undercover federal agent.
Person, who was immediately suspended without pay by the school, was released on $100,000 bond after making an appearance in U.S. District Court in New York.
ESPN’s report doesn’t identify any sources involved in the academic fraud allegation involving a tutor and at least one Auburn football player.
The law firm was hired by Auburn on the same day the tutor in question reportedly received written notification from the school that the tutor was being placed on administrative leave.
According to the report, when ESPN brought the allegation to Auburn President Steven Leath this week, Leath released a statement claiming to “take the allegation very seriously.”
“While the independent investigation has found no evidence to date to support the claims, I’m actively engaged as the investigation continues,” Leath’s statement read.
The law firm, which has a long history of representing schools in NCAA compliance and college sports law matters, most recently represented the University of Hawaii in an appeal when the school’s men’s basketball program was imposed a postseason ban, scholarship reductions and probation from by an NCAA ruling.
In March 2017, the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions reversed the postseason ban after Lightfoot attorneys William Brooks and Clint Speegle represented Hawaii in the NCAA proceedings.
According to his company bio another Lightfoot attorney Henry Gimenez, a 1998 Auburn graduate, has worked on many of the most recent high-profile cases, including those involving Heisman Trophy winners from two Southeastern Conference institutions, which includes former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.
Auburn athletics’ relationship with the law firm goes back to when they served as legal counsel for then-head coach and athletic director Pat Dye when former Auburn defensive back Eric Ramsey secretly tape recorded three years of conversations with coaches and boosters that showed improper payments to athletes.
The result of the Ramsey case was the immediate resignation of Dye as athletic director and his resignation as football coach the following year.