That’s the summary of a lawsuit filed by Bethune-Cookman University against three of its former top administrators, including its ex-president and ex-chief financial officer.
To download B-CU’s lawsuit, right-click on this link and click “Download Linked File”:
B-CU vs. Jackson, et. al complaint
BY THE FLORIDA COURIER STAFF
DAYTONA BEACH – Hush money. Conspiracy. Bribery.
In a 164-page lawsuit that reads like a true crime short story, Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) has sued three of its top former administrators; the developer of what the lawsuit calls “The Ill-Conceived Dormitory Project” that may cost the school more than $300 million; and a consultant who helped bring the disastrous deal together.
Former B-CU President Dr. Edison Jackson; Chief Financial Officer Emmanuel Gonsalves; vice president of Institutional Advancement Dr. Hakim Lucas; Maryland-based real estate developer Darnell Dailey; and Orlando-based consultant Mark Glover were all personally sued in the court action filed Monday in Volusia County’s Seventh Judicial Circuit.
The lawsuit does not ask for a specific amount from the defendants. However, given the circumstances, money damages to B-CU could run easily into the tens of millions.
The ‘Jackson Triad’
In a section entitled “Background Allegations,” the legal action essentially washes some of Jackson’s proverbial dirty laundry in public, including previous allegations of financial mismanagement levied at him during his previous tenure as a college president.
“Dating back to approximately the 2000s, Defendants Jackson, Lucas and Gonsalves (sometimes collectively the ‘Jackson Triad’) were all employed by Medgar Evers College” located in New York City, it begins.
“Jackson was the President of Medgar Evers from approximately 1989 to 2009. Lucas held numerous high-ranking positions at Medgar Evers from approximately 2002 to 2009, and, during much of that time reported directly to Jackson. Gonsalves also held various high-ranking positions at Medgar Evers during the 2000s, and also directly reported to Jackson.
“Shortly after Jackson left Medgar Evers in 2010, numerous questions arose concerning irregularities in the school’s finances. An internal audit of Medgar Evers confirmed that significant funds had been improperly pilfered from the school during Jackson’s tenure as President. These financial improprieties occurred because Jackson created, or permitted, an environment consisting of loose organizational and financial management policies,” the lawsuit states.
Interestingly, none of these allegations came to light publicly before Jackson was appointed as B-CU’s interim president in March 2012, or in 2013 when he became its full-time president.
B-CU finances targeted?
The lawsuit alleges that Jackson brought Lucas and Gonsalves with him to B-CU and eventually placed them into two of the most powerful positions in the school’s administration, where the three purportedly proceeded to rob B-CU blind by pushing a dormitory deal that was “pre-cooked” from its inception.
According to lawsuit, once “The Jackson Triad was reunited in Daytona Beach – fully intact…the stage was set for the school to suffer through unprecedented financial and managerial improprieties that were engineered, promoted, condoned or permitted to occur by Jackson, Lucas and Gonsalves.”
This was done, according to the lawsuit, by the Jackson Triad secretly aligning with Dailey the developer and his associated legal entities “to pursue a purported ‘approval’ by B-CU of the proposed dormitory project at a highly inflated price.
“The supposed ‘price’ of the dormitory project – announced to be $72 million during the ‘approval’ process, but which was actually and secretly $84 million all along – was grossly excessive on its face, and tens of millions of dollars more costly than a project of this nature properly would have run,” the lawsuit claims.
“The same or substantially similar amenities could have been constructed for a fraction of the amount ultimately charged to B-CU by Dailey and his affiliates. The current appraised value of the dormitory is for less than the amounts charged to B-CU.”
The legal action alleges violations of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, civil remedies for criminal practices, breach of fiduciary duty and conspiracy to commit breach of fiduciary duty; constructive fraud and conspiracy to commit constructive fraud; and breach of promissory note.
Trusting, ignorant trustees
According to the lawsuit, in October 2014, Gonsalves presented to B-CU’s Board of Trustees an overview of the proposed dormitory project prepared and provided by Dailey as “a cheerleader piece… for the purpose of affirmatively misleading the balance of B-CU’s leadership about the true (and very unfavorable) terms of the proposed deal.”
When the overview was presented, “B-CU officials completely trusted Gonsalves (and Lucas and Jackson), and had no idea, and no reason to believe, that Gonsalves (or Lucas and Jackson) had secretly “switched teams” and was/were actually promoting the interests of Dailey and his affiliates,” it alleges.
“Because much of the misconduct had been secretly carried out by senior leaders of B-CU, B-CU as an organization – staffed by a new executive team after the departures of the Jackson Triad – did not immediately realize or discover the magnitude of the predecessors’ misconduct. To this date, certain of the finite details of the Defendants’ misconduct remain to be established through discovery.”
The lawsuit does not mention that some alumni and board trustees had hard questions about the dorm deal as far back as 2014-2015, as has been reported in multiple Florida Courier stories.
Some demanded a forensic audit to uncover the fraudulent activity B-CU now alleges. By almost a unanimous vote, B-CU trustees refused to authorize the audit or any further internal investigation.
Hush money, rush job
B-CU now also alleges that Lucas and Gonsalves, with Jackson’s knowledge, “secretly and improperly authorized and gave certain ‘hush bonuses’ to various employees of B-CU who became privy to various aspects of the dormitory project.
“These hush bonuses were provided for the specific purpose of obtaining the cooperation and silence of the recipients, and to discourage them from interfering with the completion of the ill-advised dormitory project,” it states.
No current or former B-CU employees were named in the lawsuit as receiving such illicit payments.
B-CU also accuses the Jackson Triad of fast-tracking the dorm project for a nefarious purpose.
“Jackson improperly allowed construction of the dormitory project to begin before it had actually been ‘approved by B-CU (even though such “approval” was always uninformed, defective, and without legal effect),” the legal complaint states.
“The rush to begin construction was intended to make it difficult, from a practical and public relations perspective, to then “stop” a project that Jackson, Lucas and Gonsalves knew full-well was not properly authorized and which never should have begun.”