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Minnesota Athletics Probe Largely Clears School

MINNEAPOLIS ― The University of Minnesota athletics department generally doesn’t condone or tolerate sexual harassment and the school had no knowledge of inappropriate conduct by former athletic director Norwood Teague before the allegations that led to his resignation surfaced, according to an external review released Tuesday.

Teague stepped down abruptly in August after two high-ranking university administrators reported he sexually harassed them at a senior leadership retreat weeks earlier. His deputy, Mike Ellis, resigned in November after being placed on leave in September when complaints against him surfaced.

The review ― conducted by an employment law attorney and a former federal prosecutor ― found no fault with the university’s vetting of Teague before he was hired. The university had been criticized for missing a gender discrimination complaint against Teague when he worked at Virginia Commonwealth University.

It did, however, find that some Minnesota athletes lied to investigators trying to follow up on a sexual harassment complaint. While the university’s equal opportunity office didn’t find enough evidence to substantiate the harassment allegation, the review determined otherwise, saying there was sufficient evidence “to conclude that at least some of the student athletes” violated the university’s sexual harassment policy.

The report didn’t identify the sport, but the school’s director of equal opportunity reported in July that her office had received complaints about football players.

Bill O’Brien, an attorney for Teague, said the release of the report marks the end of “an extended feeding frenzy” involving Teague, but that they needed time to review its more than 700 pages before commenting.

The outside investigators interviewed more than 100 people and reviewed 250,000 pages of documents, texts and emails for the report. The estimated cost of the external review through Nov. 30 was $690,000.

The findings were released ahead of a special Board of Regents meeting Tuesday. Besides the external probe of the department’s culture, hiring practices and handling of allegations of sexual misconduct, the school also released a university-conducted financial audit of the department.

The financial audit examined Teague’s administration of the department as well as travel and expense reports by his leadership team. During his tenure, athletics administrators had $386,000 worth of expenses; some are still under review. In some instances, auditors found alcohol purchases were disguised under other expense headings or improperly charged to special purchasing cards.

Holiday parties, luxury hotel stays, private car services, private plane charters and first-class airline tickets also came under scrutiny. The department was urged to seek reimbursement of expenses that shouldn’t have been allowed.

Auditors also took issue with an agreement the athletics department made under Teague to provide no-rent use of TCF Bank Stadium for a concert during the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The audit said the arrangement for the Imagine Dragons concert was not fully vetted and that the fair-market value would have been $319,855. The league was billed $187,000, but it also got to keep net proceeds from concessions and merchandise. Instead of getting a payment, the university was given tickets to the baseball game at an average cost of $2,565 per ticket.

In response to the audit, interim athletic director Beth Goetz said her staff is working on documenting and seeking reimbursement for questionable expenses. She said all current employees have completed repayment.

The external investigation was conducted by Minneapolis employment law attorney Karen Schanfield and former federal prosecutor Joseph Dixon. They were charged with reviewing all allegations of sexual harassment against Teague, other senior leaders and anyone connected to the athletics department – and what was done about them. They also examined Teague’s hiring in 2012 and why the vetting process didn’t turn up discrimination complaints while he was at Virginia Commonwealth University.

An attorney for the executive search firm that helped the school hire Teague wrote University President Eric Kaler in August to refute criticism from Kaler. In it, lawyer Richard Robbins described Parker Executive Search as “very distressed” by the Teague situation and strenuously argued that the firm held up its end of the contract. It said discrimination allegations at Virginia Commonwealth were lodged after the search process was over, and that neither Teague nor VCU disclosed them.

The financial audit was in the works before Teague stepped down but was sped up, with a special emphasis placed on his activities.

Brian Bakst reported from St. Paul. Associated Press writer Doug Glass and sports writer Dave Campbell contributed to this story from Minneapolis.

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