After three controversial decades, San Diego State University’s vice president of business and financial affairs Sally Roush is finally retiring from her $230,400-a-year job. Originally director of personnel services, Roush was promoted to her current position two decades ago. During the hands-off era of university president Stephen Weber, many academic insiders said she virtually ran the institution, parrying a bevy of sports scandals, buttering up the city’s wealthy male donors, and, as a final hurrah, present for the death of a grandiose plan by the board of the school’s non-profit foundation to build an on-campus shopping-and-entertainment mall. Back in the late 1990s, one of Roush’s major assignments was the care and feeding of John Moores, the mega-millionaire Padres owner who was using big gifts of stock in his then-high-flying Peregrine Systems to fund sports facilities at the university.
“It is my honor once again to thank you for your generosity to San Diego State University,” Roush wrote Moores and his then-wife Becky in a February 1999 letter obtained under the state’s public records act. “Your most recent gift of stock generated $7,437,877 upon sale.” She continued: “We at SDSU take very seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of the funds you have donated, and to do our best to utilize the funds in a way that supports our Athletic Department — and therefore the University — in a first-class way.
“As you know, sometimes we have stretched our thinking and, heaven forbid, our administrative processes. But this is a good thing, and we enjoy the challenge of striving for new levels of accomplishment. Your gifts and gentle guidance have been tremendously motivating. As always, if you would like a briefing on project status, or any issue at the University, please do call on me.”
Three years later, Peregrine went bankrupt, and Matthew Gless, the firm’s former chief financial officer subsequently was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison in what had been revealed to be a case of massive fraud. Besieged by scandal, Moores demanded his name be stripped from university improvements that the stock sales had funded. “Look, take my name off stuff. I don’t want my name used in affiliation with the university if it’s going to be a lightning rod for controversy,” then–Padres vice chairman Bob Vizas quoted Moores as saying. The Padres owner ultimately escaped prosecution, but ended up partially funding a $117 million settlement. He had personally unloaded $487 million worth of stock during the time the fraud was under way.
Then there was the case of SDSU’s football strength coach David Ohton, who got a $2.7 million settlement from the state university system in February 2011. In a lawsuit that cost taxpayers more than $1 million in legal expenses, the Union-Tribune reported, Ohton’s attorneys charged that Roush had covered up alleged excessive drinking by head coach Tom Craft to avoid yet another public scandal in the university’s troubled athletic department.
Roush was also at the center of the Jeff Schemmel controversy. He was hired by the university as athletic director in July 2005 despite a thousand-page investigation by the University of Minnesota fingering the former U of Minn administrator in a big academic fraud case. “We were very thorough in the whole matter,” Roush told the Union-Tribune. “I think what made the difference for me was my discussion with Jeff — his personality, his genuineness, his commitment to compliance, and how he handled the (Minnesota situation) once it happened.”
Four years later, Schemmel departed SDSU under a cloud after allegations came to light that he had used taxpayer funds to pay a visit to his mistress in Alabama. SDSU president Weber announced that as a parting gift the university would forgive Schemmel’s $20,000 home loan, pay $116,000 in settlement fees, and write a letter of recommendation for him. Two years after that, in October 2011, Schemmel turned up as the managing director of JMI Sports LLC, a college-sports consulting outfit owned by none other than John Moores, who was Schemmel’s main champion during his time at SDSU. Some expect Roush to soon join him there. Roush did not respond to a request for comment left with her assistant.