Mad River Union
HSU – A lawsuit filed in Superior Court by a Humboldt State University employee accuses two of his former colleagues of stealing school and scholarship money and using it for lavish trips.
Former HSU Sports Information Director Dan Pambianco, who now works for the HSU Marketing & Communications Department, claims that HSU Athletic Director Dan Collen and Associate Athletic Director of External Affairs Tom Trepiak have used scholarship and department funds for personal use.
“We found no problem,” Helwig said in an interview last week.
The lawsuit and the allegations were first reported Sept. 17 by The Lumberjack, HSU’s student newspaper.
Pambianco is suing the Board of Trustees of the California State University system, Collen, Trepiak and other unnamed defendants whom he accuses of age discrimination, and failure to prevent retaliation and discrimination. The lawsuit also seeks to stop the alleged fraud and waste.
Pambianco was HSU’s sports information director until January, when he was transferred to the HSU Marketing & Communications Department, where he now works. Pambianco claims in the lawsuit that he was “forced against his will” to take the new job.
“I didn’t request a reassignment,” Pambianco said in an interview Friday. The transfer, he said, was retaliation for “raising issues about malfeasance and business practices.”
The lawsuit alleges that Pambianco, now 55, was subjected to “a continuous course of discriminatory treatment on account of his age.” The lawsuit claims that he was severely overworked, denied a salary increase and threatened with termination by then-HSU President Rollin Richmond, who retired at the end of the last school year.
After filing a discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in 2012, Pambianco was “subjected to a continuous course of retaliatory conduct by Dan Collen and Tom Trepiak.”
That conduct, according to the lawsuit, included changing Pambianco’s job duties and giving him less desirable assignments, micro-management of his job duties by Trepiak, and failure by Trepiak to communicate important information to Pambianco about his job. The lawsuit claims that Pambianco was not given progressive pay raises, while some of his colleagues received “significant pay raises.” Pambianco claims that he was forced to work 50 to 60 hours a week and that he lost vacation days because he was forced to work.
As a result of the “unlawful conduct, plaintiff [Pambianco] suffered lost employment opportunities, lost earnings, wages and benefits, damage to his reputation and emotional distress.”
The lawsuit claims that Collen “has unlawfully stolen and/or embezzled public monies from HSU. In one instance, defendant Collen ‘purchased’ a trip to Alaska donated by booster Steve Brown that was auctioned at the 2013 HSU Athletics Sports Auction. Collen never paid for the trip. He completed the trip with three friends in June 2013.”
The lawsuit also claims that Collen took money earmarked for HSU student scholarships and misdirected the money into an administrative account that was then used to “pay the expenses incurred in his lavish travel. Collen has gone to great lengths to hide these transactions from others.”
“Defendant Collen frequently takes lavish trips at HSU’s expense, spending large amounts of money on meals and hotels. Many of these trips have little or no public benefit and have the main purpose of unlawfully enriching Collen and his cronies at the taxpayer’s expense,” the lawsuit states.
Trepiak is also implicated in the lawsuit, although with fewer specifics.
“Defendant Trepiak has unlawfully and improperly received a portion of the monies donated at HSU’s annual Celebrity Dinner and Sports Auction, an event that is represented to donors as providing funding for student scholarships,” the lawsuit states.
Pambianco also takes exception to HSU athletics’ hiring of JB Mathers to broadcast basketball games while the Jacks are on the road. Mathers is the sports and new director for Bicoastal Media in Eureka.
“Defendant Collen has wasted public monies to employ his crony Mathers,” the lawsuit states. The job of broadcasting from the road was done for 17 years by Pambianco without additional costs to HSU, according to Pambianco.
Pambianco’s lawsuit doesn’t include any dollar amounts.
Asked for comment via email, both Collen and Trepiak denied the allegations.
“I fully and completely deny any and all allegations that Mr. Pambianco has accused me of and I wish I could say more but can’t due to pending litigation,” wrote Collen.
Trepiak wrote “The allegations about me are totally and completely false, and I am not able to comment any further on pending litigation.”
HSU Chief of Staff Denice Helwig refuted the claim that Pambianco’s job transfer was done out of retaliation.
“The decision was made for business reasons,” Helwig said.
Helwig was hesitant to speak directly about Pambianco’s allegations, but said that as a general rule such allegations are investigated internally by the human resources department.
As for the alleged misspending in athletics, Helwig said the program undergoes regular audits by outside accounting firms, and nothing has been found amiss.
When the discrimination and misspending allegations were investigated “we found no problems,” Helwig said.
Pambianco said that he had tried to resolve his problems with the university without resorting to litigation, but was unsuccessful.
“It’s a process I’d hoped to avoid for many years now,” Pambianco said. Pambianco said he hopes the current dynamic can be changed in the athletics department. “I’m not trying to be a hero, but I also can’t sit quietly and be a victim or watch others be impacted.” he said. Pambianco is being represented by attorney Peter E. Martin.
Humboldt State issues statement
(The following was submitted by Humboldt State on Monday, Sept. 22.)
Humboldt State University
Humboldt State University enjoys broad support from the community we serve. We value the loyalty of our alumni and our donors who participate as partners in helping to provide an exceptional educational experience for our students. We are committed to doing everything possible to earn and keep the trust of those who volunteer and make gifts to the University.
In particular, we strive to ensure that those who have generously made charitable contributions can be confident that their contributions are used as they intend.
Recent articles in local media have focused attention on donor cultivation activities by the Department of Athletics. Based on the unproven allegations in a lawsuit by a single employee, which is still pending and which the University believes to be without merit, these outlets reported that scholarship funds may have been diverted away from students. The stories neglected to report many relevant facts, including that nearly all costs of the activities were actually paid by a generous donor, and suggest that donor funds might have been misused.
This has caused concern among some of our donors. We take this concern, and the allegations that prompt them, very seriously, and we are investigating the issue, wherever it might lead.
With that objective, we have contracted with an independent auditing firm, Clifton Larson Allen, to conduct a review of the Athletic scholarship program funds. The reviewing firm will have full access to pursue their inquiries, and the results will be made available after the review is concluded.
Donors can trust Humboldt State with their contributions. We are committed to taking every step necessary to ensure all donors that they can be completely confident that their funds are used as intended.