Former ETSU director fired after audit reveals questionable purchases


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- News Channel 11 has obtained a memo ahead of Friday’s ETSU Board of Trustees’ Audit Committee meeting that reveals an investigation into questionable spending from the former director of the Center for Academic Achievement at ETSU.

Robert Russell is now the former director of the center after being terminated, a university spokesperson confirmed Thursday.

He’s accused of spending thousands of dollars on a university card for personal items and failing to report hours.

The total cost incurred – almost $50,000.

ETSU students we spoke with said the center in the Sherrod Library is a positive space for campus resources.

“It’s definitely disappointing. I’ve never really encountered any faculty member or administrator on campus that I felt was untrustworthy,” ETSU freshman McKenzie Templeton said.

They’re shocked to find out what Russell is accused of.

Russell is known for his appearance on Jeopardy in 2015 in which he won more than $43,000. He’s now accused of taking more than that from the school.

The memo in Friday’s Board of Trustees’ Audit Committee agenda notes the interal audit investigation was done between February and March of 2019.

It reveals – Russell incurred over $17,000 worth of personal purchases using a university card.

It also notes that Russell failed to report over 800 hours of annual sick leave over a four-year span.

Total cost there – nearly $30,000.

The memo goes on to say that the center’s management is taking action to prevent this from happening again and it does not say if Russell has been charged with a crime.

“In the actual workplace, you have an overseer, so they should know how many hours you’re clocking in, they should know what you’re spending the cards on,” ETSU senior Hannah Mock said.

ETSU junior Alisa Timbs is hoping for more transparency as this investigation continues.

“Feel like a lot of the times we’re in the dark with stuff like this, and hopefully they’re keeping a watch out to make sure no one else is doing the same thing,” Timbs said.

A University spokesperson tells us this is an ongoing investigation and the case has been referred to ETSU Public Safety.

We’ve reached out to Russell for comment but have not yet heard back.

We’re expecting to learn more about this investigation at the ETSU Board of Trustees’ Audit Committee meeting Friday morning.

The memorandum provides a summary of the investigation that was completed earlier this year.

To: ETSU Board of Trustees’ Audit Committee 

From: Becky Lewis, Director of Internal Audit 

Subject: Completed Investigations- February 1 to March 31, 2019

Date: April 26, 2019

“The investigation revealed the Director incurred $17,322.16 worth of personal purchases using a University procard. The questionable items purchased had no known business purpose and appeared to be purchased for the Director’s personal use. In addition, the review identified 833.3 hours of annual/sick leave the Director failed to report between August 2015 and January 2019. Total questioned costs related to these hours totaled $29,604.87. Management over the CFAA is implementing appropriate controls to help mitigate the risk associated with procards and timekeeping and will be taking necessary actions related to the Director as deemed necessary.” 

News Channel 11 reached out to an East Tennessee State University spokesperson for comment Thursday who sent the following response. 

“I can confirm that an investigation has been completed and that disciplinary actions have been taken.  The individual at the center of the investigation is no longer employed at ETSU. No further comment regarding this case is available at this time.”

Joe Smith

ETSU spokesperson

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