Group questions trustees’ business practices

A GW alumni group is questioning the business practices of several University Board of Trustees members and is gradually posting information about each member on its Web site.

GW Alums for Responsibility, which was founded by alumni and union organizers concerned about the University’s worker policies, has already accused four board members of illegal business practices. The 33-person board is the University’s highest decision-making body.

The group will continue to post allegations against 29 more members, including GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, on its Web site, www.gwalums4responsibility.info.

Ann Swinburn, a research analyst with the AFL-CIO’s Local 27 Parking and Service Workers’ Union, said the group has about 1,600 alumni on its e-mail list and will release information about two trustees every two weeks.

“These are people who Trachtenberg relies on to help run the University, but they don’t seem to be running their own companies very well,” Swinburn said.

Swinburn, who is not a GW alumna, has spearheaded the union’s recent efforts to secure better salaries and health benefits for workers at Colonial Parking, which operates dozens of garages in D.C. and was founded by Thaddeus Lindner, an emeritus trustee.

Union organizers said GW is partly responsible for the mistreatment of parking garage workers because it allows Colonial Parking to operate garages in several of its facilities, including the 2000 Penn mall.

The union has already alleged financial malfeasance of four board members: Riggs Bank CEO Robert Allbritton, Marsellis-Warner Corporation Chairman Philip Amsterdam, Former AOL President Raymond Oglethorpe and Lydia Thomas, president and CEO of Mitretek Systems.

But several of these board members said in phone interviews or through spokespeople that the group’s claims are baseless.

Although the group has written on its site that Allbritton is under investigation for money laundering, Riggs Spokesman Mark Hendrix asserted that the federal government is investigating the bank, not its CEO, for deficiencies in complying with the Bank Secrecy Act. The act requires financial institutions to report suspicious activities to federal authorities.

Hendrix added that there have never been any indications that Allbritton is personally under investigation.

“All the publicity about Riggs has been whether we’ve made timely compliance in releasing information pertaining to the Bank Secrecy Act,” he said.

Thomas, who was accused of purchasing costly furniture for her office, said in a phone interview that the purchase was for her entire company and that her activities on the board are completely separate from her business activities.

“We moved from an old facility and we had the first opportunity to buy our employees furniture in 20 years, and that’s for an eight-story building,” she said.

Thomas added, “It would be nice if this group tried to contact me before they tried to slander me.”

Amsterdam, whose construction company pleaded guilty in January to filing inaccurate claims for extra costs when it built a mail facility, said a field worker outside of his jurisdiction was responsible for the accounting inaccuracies.

“The issues in my company are the same as the issues in any major corporation,” he said.

Swinburn said while the group’s goal was to inform the GW community about the actions of its trustees, it does not necessarily want to see any board members removed from their posts.

“I think (the purpose of the Web site is) to get President Trachtenberg to think critically on who he listens to on important issues,” Swinburn said.

Joe McLaughlin, who graduated from GW in 1985 and is a founder of GW Alums for Responsibility, said he felt that the business connections of some trustees, including Trachtenberg, might have led the University to conduct secret and unethical deals.

“They don’t have the same standards or disclosure as a publicly traded company,” McLaughlin said. “I think the University should disclose that there are trustees that have certain business affiliations.”

The positions of various board members on different corporations is regulated and monitored by the University, said Trachtenberg, who also serves on Riggs’ Board of Directors.

He added that he was never approached by GW Alums for Responsibility to sit down and talk about the qualifications of trustees and said he was confident in the abilities of the board’s members.

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