Audit alleges nearly $700K in improper spending at Fayetteville State

One employee was identified as the now-former House Democratic Caucus communications director

An audit of Fayetteville State Univeristy — the campus’ Charles Waddell Chesnutt Library is pictured — alleges that nearly $700,000 was inapproately spent at the school. (LTreadell / Creative Commons)

RALEIGH — A recent investigative audit by the office of North Carolina State Auditor Jessica Holmes revealed the misuse of nearly $700,000 at Fayetteville State University.

The audit found that from January 2022 to August 2023, the Fayetteville State University’s (FSU) Office of Strategic Communication (OSC) made $692,239 in purchasing card (P-card) and travel card (T-card) purchases that were unallowable under university policies and/or lacked sufficient documentation to justify the expenses.

P-card and T-card transactions totaling $322,743 lacked receipts or documented business purposes, leaving nearly half of the OSC’s purchases during that period inadequately supported.

The OSC employees making the unallowable purchases included the former associate vice chancellor, the former director of digital strategy, and the current assistant vice chancellor for marketing and creative services.

The individuals in those three positions spent $575,123 on 208 prohibited P-card purchases, including $464,627 paid directly to individuals, consultants or employees, $91,340 for paying invoices, and $13,650 on unallowable items like IT equipment and gifts.

FSU’s response to the P-card portion of the audit says the school has referred that spending to the State Bureau of Investigation to “determine if there is sufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges.”

While not named in the audit, FSU’s previous associate vice chancellor was Joy Cook, and the former director of digital strategy was Morgan Osley-Pratt. Tina Raines is still currently the assistant vice chancellor for marketing and creative services.

In early May, Cook was hired as the director of communications for the North Carolina House Democratic Caucus and resigned from that position before the audit’s release.

Cook founded and runs a company called “Trust Communications,” described in its LinkedIn profile as a “Crisis Management and PR Firm.” Osley-Pratt also works at Trust, per her LinkedIn account.

“We hired Joy Cook off of her merit and over 20 years of nationally recognized communication experience,” House Democratic Caucus Executive Director Amanda Eubanks said in an email response to North State Journal. “Our hiring process is extremely competitive, and her references went through a thorough review and vetting process of which Ms. Cook had exemplary reviews.”

Eubanks also wrote Cook “has resigned her position,” and the House Democratic Caucus is “focused on more pressing issues such as funding education and the attack on DEI, which impacts many North Carolinians.”

The audit also cites $84,469 spent by Cook and Osley-Pratt in T-card purchases that violated FSU policies, including $73,068 on nontravel expenses like paying consultants, and $11,401 on unnecessary travel costs like premium airfare, extra hotel nights and ride-sharing for personal activities.

The audit also identified $165,570 paid by FSU to businesses owned by OSC employees who failed to disclose their monetary interests, representing potential conflicts of interest. The businesses that were paid these funds were not identified in the audit.

The breakdown of the $165,570 showed $56,950 was paid to a business owned by the former copyrighting assistant, $54,287 to a business owned by the former digital content coordinator, $48,733 to a business owned by the former director of digital strategy, and $5,600 to a business owned by the former associate vice chancellor of OSC.

Recommendations in the audit to correct the issues mainly on improving compliance with the university’s policies and procedures for P-card and T-card purchases, and that FSU should “determine if it needs to seek reimbursement from the cardholder for any purchases made on the P-card and T-card which were unallowable per University policies.”

In the school’s response, FSU Chancellor Darrell Allison stated it “agrees with the findings and recommendations” and that two OSC employees are “no longer employed” at the school.

“The University agrees with the findings and recommendations presented and remains fiercely committed to conducting business in an ethical manner to retain public confidence,” Allison wrote.

“Upon learning of these egregious and disturbing allegations, the University, working in concert with the UNC System, acted quickly and decisively in improving processes within the Division of Business and Finance, the Office of Human Resources, and the Office of Strategic Communications,” wrote Allison. “In addition, two employees in the Office of Strategic Communications named in the report are no longer employed at the University. Moreover, we have since then taken intentional steps to ensure that such violations do not occur again.”

About A.P. Dillon 1320 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_