Attorney general awaiting new evidence

Updated: March 3, 2005, 1:15 AM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- The state's top prosecutor said Wednesday he would consider reopening a criminal investigation into the University of Colorado's sex-and-alcohol recruiting scandal if he finds any new evidence that would hold up in court.

"If at any point in time we felt there was evidence of criminal wrongdoing in regards to any of those issues involving sex assault or anything like that, I would not hesitate to (ask Gov. Bill Owens) for the authority to prosecute cases of that nature," Attorney General John Suthers said.

He and Owens met privately Wednesday afternoon to discuss a grand jury report that says CU's athletics department kept a "slush fund" and that two female trainers said they were sexually assaulted by an assistant football coach.

The report, officially still secret, was completed last year but leaked to the media this week. The grand jury had investigated allegations that the university used sex, drugs and alcohol to recruit top athletes and that nine women were sexually assaulted by athletes or recruits.

The panel indicted only one person, a low-level university employee on charges of soliciting a prostitute and misusing a school telephone. When details of the report were leaked, questions were raised about why none of the other allegations resulted in criminal charges.

Suthers, in office for only a month, refused to say whether he is actively reviewing last year's investigation or whether he would second-guess his predecessor, Ken Salazar, who oversaw that inquiry.

Suthers was named attorney general after Salazar was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Owens and Suthers spoke briefly with reporters after emerging from their private meeting in Owens' office.

Suthers said he would wait until state officials finish an audit of the university before deciding whether to investigate the university's finances. He said any inquiry into the university's books would be separate from a criminal investigation of the other allegations.

Suthers said there was no deadline to complete the audit.

Owens, who has been critical of the university, called for more openness, particularly in transactions between the school and its independent fund-raising arm, the University of Colorado Foundation.

"Restoring the good name of a great university is job one for all of Colorado's leaders," he said.

Karen Salaz, a spokeswoman for the state court system, said an investigation into numerous leaks of the grand jury's report is under way. She did not elaborate.

CU president Elizabeth Hoffman acknowledged the university has had rough sledding since the recruiting scandal erupted 13 months ago, but she called on Owens and lawmakers to help improve the school.

"Those critical of the university must join with us to help identify other ways the university can get on with its mission to provide the best educational environment possible," Hoffman said at a press conference at the capitol.

Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee unanimously approved a bill Wednesday requiring the CU Foundation to disclose more of its financials after lawmakers promised that donors would be protected. It still faces a vote in the full Senate. A version has already passed the House.

The foundation has argued that its records are not open to public review. Owens and others have said that the books should be open because the foundation's funds eventually end up in the hands of a public institution. Critics have also questioned how some of the money was spent.

In a fierce defense of the foundation, President Michael Byram told the committee it has been a good steward of donations and has done nothing wrong.

"Senators, it's time for the lies and innuendo, the unsubstantiated allegations to stop," he said.

The foundation has assets of more than $760 million.

Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder, said the bill will help the foundation by clearing up questions about how the university spends funds the foundation collects.

He said the bill will ensure donors' privacy is protected.

Cindy Carlisle, a member of the university's governing Board of Regents, disputed claims that CU and the foundation have been open about how funds are spent.

She said she was "bullied and harassed" when she asked about $8 million the university paid the foundation under a management contract. She said still has not gotten answers.

"I wonder what's to hide. What is it that is not being answered?" she asked.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press