Channel 2 investigation exposes financial wrongdoing and cover-up at UGA

A whistleblower exposed financial wrongdoing by a top UGA official, but the school fired her instead.

ATHENS, GA. — At 60, Sallyanne Barrow never thought she would become a whistleblower, especially against the school she attended, worked for, donated to, and has loved her entire life.

"It's not something you want to do, but it's the right thing to do," said Barrow, who is a certified public accountant. "I had a fiduciary duty to report fraud."

Barrow worked for the University of Georgia alumni relations office and reported her boss, Deborah Dietzler, for skipping work without taking leave and using taxpayer money for personal trips.

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We’re digging into the lies one former UGA employee allegedly used and how our investigation caused her to be suspended from her new $185,000 a year job.

"I think that's terrible. I think that's corrupt," said Barrow, who began documenting Dietzler’s activities in 2013 after a complaint from Dietzler's assistant.

"He came to me and said, 'I am not going to continue to lie for her,' and he informed me of what she was doing with her travel requests," Barrow said.

Dietzler was in charge of programming to help the university bring in alumni dollars, so her job allowed travel to chapters around the country.

But Dietzler was also an avid marathon runner, who would book her races, hotels and airfare, and then task her assistant, Scott Kinney, to find alumni for her to meet so she could bill taxpayers for the trip.

“It could certainly be drinks at a hotel lobby, it could be having breakfast with someone. We simply had to find people for her to meet with," Kinney said. "Anyone to justify the reason why she's staying in these cities for so many days."

Sometimes he couldn't find anyone, including during the Big Sur marathon in California.

"The burden on me was to find someone in Monterey to speak with her, and after weeks of trying, with nobody to speak with her, she still went out and charged at least one of those nights back to the state," Kinney said.

Even on Dietzler’s legitimate trips, he saw trouble.

In Philadelphia, Dietzler had Kinney cancel the reservation that he'd made for her at the conference hotel for $176 a night, and rebook her down the street at a different hotel, where she could earn points, for $311 a night.

"There's a state allowance for per diems. Oftentimes I had to fabricate this information, just to justify it," said Kinney, who said numerous travel authorization documents containing false information were submitted to the university.

He says when Dietzler wasn't traveling, her behavior wasn't much better.

"Sometimes I wouldn't see Debbie in the office for one or two weeks," Kinney said. "Things were piling up, piling up, piling up."

Records show that she emailed her staff dozens of excuses, ranging from a sore throat, carpet installation at her home, even waiting for the person who picks up her dog's waste.

Dietzler “routinely fails to record sick leave when she is absent from the office,” according to an investigative report conducted by UGA's chief auditor after Barrow's complaint.

The auditor interviewed Dietzler and noted that she “does not believe that she has to record leave for the instances noted, due to the exceptional number of hours that she works.”

The report did not include of the dates or a total dollar amount for the financial wrongdoing, but it did note “an abuse of authority by Ms. Dietzler,” a statement on a travel document that was “clearly a misrepresentation of facts,” and the violation of several university policies and possibly state law.

The UGA Fraud Committee recommended that the university not renew Dietzler's contract.

Emails show that the auditor's report went all the way to University of Georgia President Jere Morehead, who declined Channel 2's request for an interview.

“The report was not to necessarily become a permanent record, or a permanent document," said former UGA Vice President Tom Landrum, who retired last year.

Landrum, who was Dietzler's boss, told WSB-TV investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer that he thought the report was a draft and would later be destroyed.

"I really do not feel the university covered it up. I feel like the university followed its own process," Landrum said.

But state policy also requires that process to include forwarding cases like Dietzler's to the state Board of Regents and attorney general to determine whether a criminal investigation is needed.

When Fleischer asked Landrum about that part of the process, he looked at her blankly and did not respond.

Landrum said he followed the recommendation of the fraud committee and told Dietzler that her contract would not be renewed.

But then he decided to help her write a resignation letter instead.

Records show that Landrum gave Dietzler a new title, at the same $123,000 salary, which she held for six months while she looked for a new job.

There is no documentation of the non-renewal.

“By not documenting the wrongdoing in any way, you've passed on a bad employee to another university?" Fleischer asked Landrum.

He replied, "I'm not going to second-guess the work of the committee."

Dietzler is now associate vice president for alumni relations and annual giving at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, where she earns $185,000 a year.

Fleischer traveled to Louisville, but couldn't locate Dietzler at her office.

It turns out that she was at home during the work day.

"We came to ask you about your finances when you were at UGA," Fleischer asked through a glass window.

Deitzler pretended that she couldn't hear the question and refused to open the door.

Instead, she called to her husband, who came outside and declined comment.

A spokesman for the University of Louisville said the school was not aware of the Dietzler investigation when it hired her. Dietzler has been placed on administrative leave there, and the University of Louisville is conducting a review of her activities.

The University of Georgia issued a statement, saying: “This is a personnel matter subject to potential litigation. Therefore, we will not make any further comment.”

The potential litigation is from Barrow.

The thanks that she received for exposing the misuse of taxpayer funds: She was fired later that year.

"It was as if I had given them a black eye that they wanted to cover up," she said.