Audit report: UL at Lafayette food services company catered parties for student union director for free _lowres

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK -- A Sodexo food service van is parked outside of the student union at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Monday, October 5, 2015, in Lafayette, La.

An audit released on Monday revealed the company selling food services to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette overbilled the school on some occasions, provided free catering for non-university events involving a former school official and brokered unwritten meal deals with university employees in exchange for cleaning services and football tickets.

The state Legislative Auditor’s findings come almost a year after university auditors discovered possible misappropriation of public funds in its dealings with Sodexo Management Inc. The school is now “reviewing its contractual relationship” with the company, according to a written response to the audit by UL-Lafayette President Joseph Savoie.

The university on Monday did not immediately provide a copy of its 2014 internal report. According to the state’s report, however, two former Sodexo administrators acted under the direction of former Student Union Director Anthony Daniel when overcharging the school a total of $5,454 to cater at least nine university-sponsored tailgating events from 2009 to 2013.

The extra money added to each bill went to a balance from which Daniel could draw for other UL-Lafayette events, Sodexo Regional Vice President Jim Fjelstul wrote in response to the audit.

The two Sodexo administrators — former general manager Patrick Pappion and the company’s former catering manager — “always understood that this ‘account’ balance was being applied to fund additional events to benefit the UL-Lafayette community and not Mr. Daniel personally,” Fjelstul wrote.

But during that time, the company also provided free catering for two parties for Daniel’s daughter, one for Daniel’s son’s girlfriend and for at least five events for two nonprofit groups with connections to Daniel, according to the audit, which alleges this arrangement may have violated state law. Daniel later paid the company the $1,955 it cost to cater his daughter’s two parties, but not until the school’s 2014 report, according to the state audit.

The case is under review by District Attorney Keith Stute’s office, Savoie said.

Daniel’s attorney, Edward Marquet, responded to the allegations in a written response to the audit.

“Despite months of examination and review of Mr. Daniel’s emails, office computer, correspondence and all manner of investigation, there is not one scrap of paper or document that establishes Anthony Daniel violated the Louisiana Constitution or State Laws,” Marquet said.

Daniel is also under scrutiny by state auditors for overseeing Sodexo’s use of the company’s university-funded marketing account to buy more than $40,000 in football tickets. He also oversaw the distribution of those tickets, which Savoie defended.

Savoie said the tickets were purchased at full face value then distributed to Sodexo employees, union housekeeping and other employees “in an effort to increase attendance at home football games,” according to his written response to the audit.

Most of the tickets “were bowl tickets” offered to students at a discounted price “to support student attendance at the bowl games,” Savoie wrote.

Savoie also defended another informal agreement between Sodexo and the university under scrutiny by state auditors, in which UL-Lafayette provided 15 season tickets a year to the service company’s management in exchange for meal cards for athletic program staffers.

Savoie said the university received nearly $50,000 in value through the exchange, which only cost the university about $10,000.

“It is a common practice for universities to promote their athletic programs through the use and exchange of tickets to athletic events for beneficial purposes,” Savoie wrote.

Sodexo also owes the university money for cleaning services, as the union’s housekeeping staff cleaned the student dining hall — which is under lease and operated by Sodexo — while on the university’s clock and in exchange for meal plans, according to the audit. Each employee who cleaned the dining hall received a meal a day from July 2009 to August 2014, costing Sodexo at least $33,213, yet part of Sodexo’s contract includes cleaning the facilities it leases.

Both Sodexo and the university said the reimbursement is underway while they reconsider the contract’s stipulations. Sodexo has also since hired a new management team, according to Fjelstul, and new rules require all purchases to go through a two-tier approval process that includes both the company and the university.

Daniel, a 30-year university employee, retired this year when the new student union opened, according to the audit.

Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.