by: Richard Belcher Updated:
ATHENS, Ga.,None - Former University of Georgia football coach Jim Donnan is caught up in a financial scandal that includes charges he defrauded friends, coaches and former players out of millions of dollars.
Donnan was UGA's head coach for five years in the late 1990s. He posted a winning record and took the team to four straight bowl games. After the school fired him in 2000, Donnan remained in Athens and was well-respected in the community. Now, he's facing personal bankruptcy and allegations of a multimillion-dollar ponzi scheme.
Channel 2's Richard Belcher met up with Donnan walking into a federal bankruptcy court in Athens. Belcher also ran into former UGA player Jonas Jennings at the hearing. Donnan is accused of duping Jennings out of $800,000. When Belcher asked Jennings if there was anything he wanted to say to his former coach, he declined.
Records in bankruptcy court show Jennings isn't alone. The documents show Donnan took in more than $14 million selling investments in a company called G.L.C., which bought and liquidated merchandise like furniture and appliances. The records show those who lost money with Donnan and G.L.C. include big names in college and professional football. They include former Auburn and current Texas Tech coach Tommy Tubberville, who lost $800,000; Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who lost $175,000; and former UGA and Steelers star Kendrall Bell, who lost more than $2 million.
There's also Valerie Fennell. Her late husband, Steve, was one of Donnan's golfing friends in Athens. She said the coach gave her husband and a lot of other friends the pitch that an investment in G.L.C. would deliver huge returns.
"He would approach people and friends at a restaurant and he would say, you see that Mercedes out there? I just paid cash for it. You have to get in on this," Fennell said.
Fennell said she was skeptical, but her husband was anxious about mounting medical bills. He had cancer and was going to need a bone marrow transplant. He gave Donnan a first investment of $150,000 in May 2010.
"Steve thought, well, Jim Donnan's a respected man. He's an ex-football coach. Everybody likes him. He's a charmer, you know, and I'll trust him," Fennell said.
She told Belcher they received $22,500 on that first investment. Within weeks, she said Donnan was asking for an even larger investment in G.L.C. Fennell said neither she nor her husband knew what Donnan already knew about the company being in trouble.
"If he was such a good buddy and such a good friend to my husband, why didn't he say to him, 'Don't give me another check right now?'" Fennell said. "But he never said a word. He just took that check for $300,000 and he just went with it."
In routine bankruptcy cases, someone like Donnan offers up a plan for repaying his creditors a portion of what he owes them, based on his available assets. But in this case, Fennell, Jennings and Bell are asking the federal bankruptcy judge not to allow Donnan to reduce his debts to them, because they say the debt is a result of fraud. The judge has not made a decision on their claims.
Belcher asked Donnan several questions as he walked into bankruptcy court. Donnan walked with Belcher for several minutes but never said a word.
Fennell isn't afraid to talk, though.
"I feel like a little chihuahua taking on a Rottweiler," she said. "But you know what? I'm going to stand up for what's right. I don't care how well he was thought of in the community. He did wrong."