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Employment contracts for Tom Craft, the school's head football coach, and Steve Fisher, the head basketball coach, show that each is entitled to two free cars, though the university-furnished records do not indicate whether they had actually received them. Both Craft's and Fisher's salaries -- in Craft's case $400,000 and Fisher's $375,000 -- are also subsidized by the foundation, according to their contracts.

In SDSU athletic director Mike Bohn's case, his December 2003 letter of engagement calls for an entity called Aztec Shops to provide him with a $100,000 "housing loan." According to state records, Aztec Shops is a nonprofit "Public Benefit" corporation that runs the student bookstore, mess hall, and other SDSU concessions. Why and how it was called upon to subsidize Bohn's mortgage has not been explained.

According to the letter, Bohn is the beneficiary of a "goal-based performance bonus agreement," under which "the University may, but is not required to, instruct Aztec Shops Ltd. to forgive the next annual principal and interest payment on the loan for the year under review."

In addition, Bohn has reported on his state-required personal financial-disclosure form that last year he received a $5000 membership to the Stoneridge Country Club in Poway. Contacted by phone, Bohn declined to reveal the source of the free membership, although state law requires the public disclosure.

Many of the perks and payments provided to athletic staffers and players at SDSU are common in today's commercialized world of college sports. But even there, the NCAA, which is supposed to oversee the schools, has drawn lines, many of which, records of state investigations show, have been crossed by SDSU. The school's financial quid pro quos, along with the tales of drinking and trips to strip clubs in San Diego and Tijuana, have been the repeated subject of official and unofficial scrutiny from the NCAA and California State University system auditors.

An April 2003 audit conducted by California State University auditor Larry Mandel concluded that those in charge at SDSU illegally traded "clothing, gear, and equipment" belonging to the university for "access to sporting events, concerts, and other entertainment." Mandel also found that "Athletic stock was openly taken...for personal use or benefit by Athletics employees and others." In addition, some staff members "bartered shoes for merchandise with a sporting-goods vendor."

The report singled out then-equipmentroom manager Steve Bartel for strong criticism, accusing him of trading or giving away clothing and equipment that was the property of the university. "The ER Manager established a relationship with an employee at a local entertainment venue whereby he could arrange for discounted and complimentary admission to events for himself and other Athletics employees. These discounted and complimentary tickets were effected through a barter of Stock."

The auditor went on to portray an out-of-control working environment, where student helpers were plied with booze and required to work more hours than they were paid for. "Alcoholic beverages were found to be stored in four different locations within the facilities controlled by the equipment room manager. All but one of these locations was accessible by student workers," the report found. Further, the equipment-room manager "encouraged underage consumption of alcohol."

"The equipment room manager was regularly seen taking items from inventory for personal use or being traded for personal benefit," the audit alleged. "He traded clothing and gear for air travel upgrades to first-class seating, admission to a local amusement park and sporting events, and for other athletic clothes and gear, which were said to include golf clubs for himself and others. Personal services unrelated to Athletics business were also traded for stock.

"We were told that the most commonly misappropriated items were caps, shirts, and shoes. However, direct evidence which could support the precise amount that was mishandled/misappropriated could not be established.

"Various Athletics employees have stated that they observed the loading of athletic shoes from the athletics equipment room manager to a nonstate vehicle during nonbusiness hours. This loading was being performed by the Senior Associate Athletic Director (AAD), the equipment room manager, and the principal for a local sporting goods dealer.

"In addition, we obtained statements from University employees and others which described this removal of shoes from the areas having occurred for a number of years. According to the equipment room manager and the senior AAD, this transaction was a barter for other stock. The equipment room manager indicated that few records of these transactions were retained by him. Athletics accounting personnel indicated that they had no record or knowledge of this transaction."

In the wake of the audit, equipment-room manager Bartel was fired by the university, but in February 2004, after he filed an appeal with the state personnel board, SDSU backed down and agreed to rehire him. "Mr. Bartel and his family are pleased to see that San Diego State recognized [its] serious errors in judgment," Bartel's attorney, Paul Kondrick, said in a statement. "It was unfortunate that Mr. Bartel has had to bear the humiliation of the last 18 months. Steve is now looking forward to returning to his job." Bartel continued on the university payroll but did not go back to his previous job. Instead, he works in the events office.

Ex-athletic director Rick Bay, forced out by SDSU president Stephen Weber after the audit, saw Bartel's reinstatement as a vindication of sorts. "I was fired because I believed the audit to be irresponsible and inaccurate," he told reporters. "Clearly there were holes in it, otherwise these allegations would have held up.... I would hope this situation gives pause to a lot of the other allegations that were in the final audit report."

Some university insiders had another interpretation: SDSU administrators did not want any more of their dirty laundry aired in public and decided to cut their losses. They had not initiated the state audit and were more than happy to see its findings called into question and the issues that it raised die an early death. Bartel subsequently filed a defamation suit against the university, several of its officials and employees, along with some boosters who had criticized him on the Internet. The bulk of that suit is still pending.

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