Felner charged with mail fraud and tax evasion

By on October 27, 2008

By Dennis O’Neil

Robert Felner looked like he had a lot on his mind this past Thursday as his case was arraigned in front of Judge Dave Whalin in the West District Courthouse.
The former College of Education and Human Development dean wore a haggard, worried expression, giving “yes, sir” and “yes, madam” answers in meek tones, as he was indicted on six counts of tax evasion, one count of mail fraud and one count of money laundering conspiracy.
Felner’s attorney, Scott Cox, entered a not guilty plea for all charges. If convicted, Felner could receive up to 75 years in prison. Whalin entered a trial date for Dec. 22 at 9:30 a.m. in front of Judge Charles R. Simpson III.
Felner was granted release on a $100,000 bond by Whalin, who was told that Felner’s passport had been seized by the Secret Service during the investigation. Whalin implored Felner not to seek another passport and to continue his cooperation with the investigation.
“You have been aware of this investigation for a long time and we haven’t had any problems,” Whalin said to Felner in court. “I would warn you to make sure that remains the same.”
The 45-page indictment handed down by a Louisville grand jury implicates both Felner and an Illinois associate, Thomas Schroeder. It alleges Felner and Schroeder embezzled an estimated $1.7 million from the University of Rhode Island where Felner was a dean and another $576,000 from the University of Louisville.
The indictment comes after months of media scrutiny that began when the investigation was made public back in June. Felner has subsequently been accused of improperly awarding a Ph.D. to former U of L student John Deasy during his time as CEHD dean, as well as the abuse of faculty and other personnel.
U of L President James Ramsey issued a statement following the indictments, emphasizing that the university brought the Felner matter to the attention of the proper authorities and the audits the university is currently conducting of its own policies and procedures.
These include an audit into the finances of the CEHD as well as an examination of the faculty grievance process and grant awarding process.
“We believe we have taken the necessary steps to address the issues that have surfaced and to begin the healing process on campus and in the community,” Ramsey said in the statement.
So far, reaction from the U of L community has been a blend of sadness as well as some optimism. Dr. William Pierce, interim dean of the graduate school, said the indictments are greatly upsetting.
“The negative attention to U of L deeply saddens me,” Pierce said in an e-mail to The Louisville Cardinal. “However, we must deal with the truths in these matters and we must work to make U of L even stronger as we move forward.”
Pierce is also chair of the committee appointed by President Ramsey to investigate the Deasy Ph.D. Though the committee has been meeting for over a month, Pierce only reported that they are continuing their fact finding with diligence and are working toward a rapid completion of their work.
Pierce also wanted to assure graduate students, particularly those in the CEHD, that these Felner matters will not have a negative effect on their degrees. Despite Pierce’s positive attitude, many in the CEHD feel exactly that.
“I am afraid that when I get my degree and I am trying to get a job, I’ll have a harder time getting hired because of all the stuff that the CEHD is going through right now,” sophomore elementary education major Paige Clark said.
Junior secondary education major Chad Maynard said he fears the Felner case will only leave a negative stigma attached to the CEHD, one that students will feel the effects of.
“The perspective of people outside of the college isn’t so much focused on how there are still students here who are working very hard,” Maynard said. “I think it has hurt the image.”
Todd Whitney, a teacher working on his Rank 1 in the CEHD, was more hopeful. Whitney said he feels this was probably an isolated incident, but that the university needs to take special steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“Ramsey has to look at every little area and inspect it,” Whitney said. “We need what they do and what everyone else does at their job, from administration on down to the teachers.”
Check The Cardinal online at www.louisvillecardinal.com for further updates on the Felner investigation.
-Toma Lynn Smith contributed to this story.

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