University of Hawaii Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple has a conversation with students and faculty
University of Hawaii Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple has a conversation with students and faculty

“The equivalent of an academic bake sale” … that’s gone “awry.”

That was the comparison that University of Hawaii Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple made earlier this week at a campus forum after a student asked him to explain how the University was defrauded out of $200,000.

School officials wired $200,000 to Epic Talent LLC in Miami, Florida, on June 19 as a down payment for a Stevie Wonder fundraising concert for the athletic department, but without due diligence.

After the real Stevie Wonder agent contacted the University on July 9, officials learned Epic Talent did not represent Wonder, and had no authority to book a concert on his behalf. University officials had to acknowledge publicly on July 10 they may have been scammed and they refunded 6,000 tickets already sold. The entire fiasco – and other blunders to follow – cost the University around $1 million in lawyers, consultants, investigators and lost funds.

Instead of answering any of the student’s questions, including who is responsible and if there would be any consequences, Apple said his overarching goal “is to get this behind us.”

“I just want to give people a perspective. And by the way, $200,000 is not a trivial amount of money. But we are a $1 billion – Manoa, just Manoa, not the University – we are a $1 billion operation.

“I have people who report to me who handle $180 million a year. And they say, ‘You know what, if somebody looked you’d probably find just through the handling of that much money if you went and looked at every individual thing you could probably find that much in terms of just losses here and there through kinds of processes.’

Apple said the event was “a tiny part of what we do” and it has “overshadowed so tremendously by a factor of 1,000 the great stories that should be coming out of the university.”

“So we did get a little bit of ink about on, oh by the way, we discovered the fat 1 gene here that looks like it will help us cure Mesothelioma and five other cancers; oh yes, our medical school is helping the homeless and giving them care and our law school goes and providing free legal advice to people who cannot afford it and our school of social work and school of education on every island helping people.”

Those are the stories that should be in the paper, Apple said.

While Apple did not name former Athletic Director Jim Donovan and Stan Sheriff Stadium manager Rich Sheriff as the two employees who publicly took the fall for arranging the concert, he did defend them.

“So this $200,000, I will just give you – it was people trying to do the right thing – trying to generate some money because we have, quite frankly, and nobody likes to hear this, we have an underfunded athletic department.

“It gets a small percentage of funds from the university that just about any other athletic department so they are basically carrying out the equivalent of an academic bake sale … and it went awry.

“And you know what, let’s get it behind us. Imua.”

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