Trial Of Texas Southern’s Former President To Begin

Jury selection is to begin today in the trial of Dr. Priscilla Slade, the former president of Texas Southern accused of misusing university funds.

HOUSTON
Priscilla Slade, the former president of financially troubled Texas Southern University, had expensive tastes.

With an affinity for clothing and shoes from Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and St. John, Slade would sometimes spend up to $4,600 at a time at Neiman Marcus, according to court records. At TSU parties, she served Johnny Walker Blue Label, a luxury whiskey that can cost $200 or more a bottle.

She lavishly furnished her $1.2 million home with a sofa worth more than $17,800, a nearly $9,200 bed and a $5,600 coffee table.

But she may have paid for all this with money from the historically Black university that has her facing a possible life sentence when she goes on trial next week.

Slade, an accounting professor and former dean of the business school, was indicted last year on two counts of misapplication of fiduciary property with a value over $200,000. Prosecutors say they plan to try her for only one of the counts.

Jury selection in her case was to begin on Monday. Among the witnesses is U.S. Housing secretary Alphonso Jackson, who was on the TSU Board of Regents when Slade was hired as president.

“The prosecution’s primary focus will be that her tastes were too extravagant for the school,” said Mike DeGeurin, Slade’s attorney. “I believe that effort is more of a character assassination than it is relevant to the facts and the purpose and spirit of the law they claim she violated.”

Prosecutors say that over seven years, Slade spent more than half a million dollars to decorate, remodel and repair the homes she had during her tenure at the university.

DeGeurin said Slade did nothing wrong and there was historical precedent at TSU for the purchases his client made.

“Anytime you have a university in financial crises, business as usual is never appropriate,” said prosecutor Donna Goode.

The spending scandal cost Slade her job in April 2006. Besides Slade, three other TSU workers were also indicted. TSU’s former chief financial officer, Quintin Wiggins, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in May.

The allegations against Slade and others coincided with reports that revealed a pattern of financial mismanagement at TSU and prompted Gov. Rick Perry to call for a state takeover of the university that was later put on hold. The entire nine-member board of regents resigned at Perry’s request.

When Slade was hired in 1999 as TSU’s 10th president, the school was under fire for poor accounting practices and falling enrollment and it faced a possible merger with another state school.

Slade, 55, grew up in Yazoo City, Miss., Divorced with two sons, she came to TSU in 1991 as chair of the accounting department.

Slade, as president, was credited with getting TSU’s finances in order, doubling enrollment, constructing new academic buildings and overhauling the financial aid system. She earned a salary of more than $248,000, as well as monthly allowances of $1,200 for a car and $4,000 for her home.

Sylvia Brooks, CEO of the Houston Area Urban League and a TSU graduate, said she witnessed significant campus growth and improvement when Slade was running the school.

“Many women really looked up to her because of her leadership at the university,” she said. “She was able to sell, promote the university.”

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, also a TSU graduate, said she was a “very dynamic, articulate and charismatic president.”

But Goode said that within weeks of her becoming president, Slade began her unapproved spending.

Authorities say Slade first spent money on her home in the Houston suburb of Missouri City and later lavishly furnished her $1.2 million, 6,000-square-foot Mediterranean-style house she had custom built in 2005.

According to court records, Slade spent nearly $108,000 at a luxury furniture store between August and December 2005.

In November 2005, she spent more than $138,000 on landscaping for her home. Prosecutors said she also spent $61,000 on a high tech security system.

DeGeurin said while the landscaping was mistakenly charged to TSU and later repaid by Slade, all the other expenses were legitimate and if there mistakes in how the spending was approved they were not done by his client.

“I’m sure (prosecutors) are going to try to make those (expenses) seem like they were wrong,” he said.

– Associated Press

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