KNOXVILLE — A report from the state comptroller's office addressed to University of Tennessee administrators on Monday details how a former Tennessee football support staff employee misused cash advances that were intended to be spent on things like meals for the football team.
Chris Spognardi, 32, was the director of football operations under former Tennessee coach Butch Jones until 2016. Spognardi plead guilty last week to a charge of official misconduct in Knox County Criminal Court.
The comptroller's investigation revealed that Spognardi "provided fabricated or altered documentation to account for at least $14,085 in travel-related cash advances entrusted to him by the UT Athletics Department" between September 2015 and January 2016.
One example the investigation highlighted shows two invoices from a barbecue restaurant in Columbia, Missouri that catered a meal for the football team. Spognardi had been provided a cash advance that covered the meal, and the invoice he later provided showed the catered meal cost $2,721.60.
But a copy of the authentic invoice published in the comptroller's investigation showed that the total bill was just $2,071.60.relatedarticlethumbfacebook
The investigation found six such invoices that had been "completely fabricated" by Spognardi. They accounted for nearly $6,000.
Another method Spognardi used in his scheme, according to the investigation, involved fraudulent tip sheets. For example, the report found that Spognardi indicated he paid a $500 tip to a member of the Kentucky State Highway Patrol for providing a travel escort in 2015.
"However, a representative of that organization told Comptroller investigators that they did not provide travel escort service for that game, and that there was no one in the entire KSHP with the name that Mr. Spognardi listed on the tip sheet," according to the investigation.
The last major category of unaccounted for cash came from Spognardi's failure to reconcile or return unused cash from summer satellite camps, according to the investigative report.
The comptroller's investigation concluded that using cash advances for team travel expenses "unnecessarily increased the risk of errors or irregularities." It also noted that Spognardi did not reconcile cash advances within 30 days as required by policy, and that some were not reconciled for up to six months.
The investigation noted that Tennessee's football operations staff directed hotel employees to "conceal or disguise" some in-room expenses.
"According to university e-mails, hotel staff were asked to bill amenities, including alcoholic beverages, which were ordered for some football staff members' rooms, as generic 'food sales.' Any effort to conceal or disguise the true nature of a transaction deteriorates accountability of university funds," the investigative report said.
Spognardi was placed on administrative leave in August of 2016 and eventually fired. He had worked with Jones for a decade, first at Central Michigan and then at Cincinnati, before joining the Tennessee staff.
The comptroller's investigative report was addressed to UT system president Joe DiPietro, university chancellor Beverly Davenport and athletic director Phillip Fulmer.
It noted that athletic department officials indicated that have "established new practices and procedures" to correct the issues detailed in the report.
University of Tennessee assistant athletics director for media relations Tom Satkowiak released a statement Monday regarding the issue.
"The university has been notified of the results from a report issued by the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury," the statement read. "The report centers on the isolated misconduct of a former administrative employee in the fall of 2015 through January 2016. While unacceptable, the incidents contained in the report have led to many process improvements to increase accountability, mitigate risk and ensure compliance moving forward."
The athletics department has adopted the following policies in the wake of the Spognardi case:
Athletics received permission to issue group travel procurement cards to directors of operations for travel expenditures, thus reducing the cash requirements for team travel.
Athletics implemented a prepaid debit card program. In lieu of cash, a reloadable prepaid debit card is provided to each member of a travel party and is loaded with per diem amounts. The use of prepaid debit cards further decreases cash requirements during team travel.
Athletics revised and expanded internal policies and procedures related to travel and provided input on changes to the university's supplemental travel procedures regarding intercollegiate athletics.
Athletics issued a formal policy for tipping bus drivers and police escorts. UT employees providing tips, along with a UT employee witness, must sign all tip sheets.
Some use of cash cannot be avoided. Cash advances for away football games are now distributed to multiple operating units as opposed to a single employee. This change no longer concentrates a large cash advance to a single employee and rather distributes separate, lesser amounts among several employees with specific areas of oversight and assignment.
Cash advances for home football games are distributed amongst two operating units.
The Athletics' chief financial officer reviews a weekly aging report listing all outstanding travel cash advances for the department.
An escalation policy was established for all outstanding cash advances. Upon the return from travel, any remaining cash must be returned within three business days. Travel expense reports inclusive of a cash advance must be filed and submitted within 30 daysafter the conclusion of a trip. Any outstanding advances not filed and submitted with a travel expense report within 30 days will be forwarded to the director of business operations for review. Additional escalation procedures include notifying the athletics chief financial officer and campus chief business officer.
Contact David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org.