At 60 years old, Sallyanne Barrow never thought she would become a whistleblower, especially against the school she attended, worked for, donated to and has loved her entire life.
“It’s not something you want to do, but it’s the right thing to do,” said Barrow, who is a certified public accountant, “I had a fiduciary duty to report fraud.”
Barrow worked for the University of Georgia Alumni Relations office and reported her boss, executive director Deborah Dietzler, for skipping work without taking leave and using taxpayer money for personal trips.
The UGA Fraud Committee recommended the university not renew Dietzler’s contract after an audit found she violated several UGA polices and possibly state law. Then- UGA Vice President Tom Landrum said he complied — but then helped Dietzler write her resignation letter and gave her a new title at the same $123,000 salary, which she held for six months while she looked for a new job.
UGA also didn’t send the audit that formed the basis of the Fraud Committee’s recommendation to the Board of Regents or the Attorney General for possible criminal violations, as required by state policy.
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“The report was not to necessarily become a permanent record, or a permanent document,” Landrum told Channel 2 Action News, adding that he thought the report was a draft and would later be destroyed.
Emails show the auditor’s report went all the way to UGA President Jere Morehead. Morehead declined Channel 2’s request for an interview, as did Dietzler.
“I really do not feel the university covered it up,” Landrum said. “I feel like the university followed its own process.”
On Monday, an attorney representing Dietzler sent Channel 2 a statement saying Dietzler was unaware of the investigative findings, or the reason that UGA decided not to renew her contract last year.
“Had she known that the basis for this decision was the erroneous conclusions contained in the draft findings, she would have vigorously defended herself,” wrote Andrew Coffman, who now represents Dietzler.
Complaint leads to audit
Barrow began documenting Dietzler’s activities in 2013 after a complaint from Dietzler’s assistant.
“He came to me and said, ‘I am not going to continue to lie for her,’ and he informed me of what she was doing with her travel requests,” recalled Barrow.
Dietzler was in charge of programming to help the university bring in alumni dollars, so her job allowed travel to chapters around the country.
But Dietzler was also an avid marathon runner, who would book her races, hotels and airfare, and then task her assistant, Scott Kinney, with finding alumni for her to meet, so she could bill taxpayers for the trip.
“It could certainly be drinks at a hotel lobby, it could be having breakfast with someone. We simply had to find people for her to meet with,” said Kinney. “Anyone to justify the reason why she’s staying in these cities for so many days.”
Sometimes he just couldn’t find anyone. The Big Sur marathon in California in 2013 was one.
“The burden on me was to find someone in Monterey to speak with her, and after weeks of trying with nobody to speak with her, she still went out and charged at least one of those nights back to the state,” said Kinney.
Audit: ‘abuse of authority’
Even on legitimate trips, Kinney saw trouble.
In Philadelphia, Dietzler had Kinney cancel the reservation he’d made her at the conference hotel for $176 a night, and re-book her down the street at a different hotel, where she could earn points, for $311 a night.
“There’s a state allowance for per diems. Often times I had to fabricate this information, just to justify it,” said Kinney, who said numerous travel authorization documents were submitted to the university containing false information.
He says when Dietzler wasn’t traveling, her behavior wasn’t much better.
“Sometimes I wouldn’t see Debbie in the office for one or two weeks,” said Kinney. “Things were piling up, piling up, piling up.”
Records of her emails show she sent her staff dozens of excuses, ranging from a sore throat, a carpet installation at her home, even waiting for the guy who picks up her dog’s waste.
Following Barrow’s complaint, UGA conducted an audit of Dietzler’s travel.
The report did not include all of the dates or a total dollar amount for the financial wrongdoing, but it did note “an abuse of authority by Ms. Dietzler.” Auditors also noted a statement on a travel document that was “clearly a misrepresentation of facts.”
The investigative report also found that Dietzler “routinely fails to record sick leave when she is absent from the office.” The auditor interviewed Dietzler and noted that she “does not believe that she has to record leave for the instances noted, due to the exceptional number of hours that she works.”
Landrum said he did know why the Fraud Committee did not forward the audit to the Regents or the Attorney General as state policy requires, but said he followed the recommendation of the committee and told Dietzler her contract would not be renewed.
UGA could provide no documentation of the non-renewal.
New job in Ky.
Dietzler is now Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations and Annual Giving at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, where she earns $185,000 per year.
A spokesman for the University of Louisville said the school was not aware of the investigation into Dietzler when it hired her. Dietzler has now been placed on administrative leave there, and the University of Louisville is conducting a review of her activities.
The University of Georgia issued a statement saying, “This is a personnel matter subject to potential litigation. Therefore, we will not make any further comment.”
The potential litigation is from Sallyanne Barrow.
The thanks she received for exposing the misuse of taxpayer funds: She was fired later that year.
“It was as if I had given them a black eye that they wanted to cover up,” she said.