In June, former hospital fundraiser John Paul Funes pleaded guilty in federal court to stealing $550,000 from the Our Lady of the Lake Foundation, which he ran for more than a decade, and with his plea, Baton Rouge got back to doing what it does best—not talking about things that make people uncomfortable.
After all, the charges against Funes—wire fraud and money laundering—pointed to much bigger problems than just the ousted development officer’s sticky fingers.
It raised questions about the lack of oversight at one of the most venerable and well-respected institutions in the city.
It made top administrators at the hospital—all of whom are still on the job—appear negligent at best.
Perhaps most troubling, it suggested the family of at least one LSU football player received cash and gift cards from Funes, allegations OLOL took seriously enough to refer them to LSU, which reported the information to the NCAA.
But with Funes taking the fall for his actions, and asserting in open court that he acted alone, the consensus around town seems to be that it’s time to put this ugly matter to bed.
There is no need to continue talking about something that taints OLOL, the FMOL nuns that run the larger medical system, some of the most respected business leaders in Baton Rouge and, God forbid, LSU athletics.
Let’s move on already, right?
Wrong. The story is not one we should so soon forget. The questions raised by the Funes scandal deserve answers. Both taxpayers and donors to OLOL and LSU should demand them. (Disclosure: Julio Melara, Business Report president and CEO, is a member of OLOL’s Board of Directors.)
To its credit, OLOL appears to be taking steps to address at least some of the problems that enabled Funes over the course of several years to steal so much money—the actual amount was $810,000, though he pleaded to a lesser amount as part of an agreement with prosecutors.
Among those measures:
• The hospital and foundation now require all expense vouchers at the foundation be approved in triplicate. That may seem like a nobrainer, but Funes was able to approve his own vouchers.
• The hospital finance staff is reviewing payments to vendors and conducting audits to get a better handle on how foundation money is being spent. They will then report back to the foundation board, which plans to begin conducting greater oversight into foundation finances. Again, something that should have been done a long time ago, but better late than never.
• The foundation board is also creating a new finance committee that will drill down into the details of monthly financial reports and bring those analyses back to the board at monthly meetings.
Props to the hospital and foundation for entering the 21st century and implementing best practices that should have been standard years ago.
Still unanswered, however, is why OLOL CEO Scott Wester remains at the helm of a system that clearly was broken and being robbed blind on his watch by one of its most trusted employees.
Even more troubling is the deafening silence in the matter of the NCAA’s investigation into allegations that the father of former Tigers offensive guard Vadal Alexander received $180,000 in stolen OLOL money from Funes around 2014, while Vadal Alexander was on the team.
The Alexanders are not the only LSU-connected family to have received payments from Funes. The mother and sister of former Tigers quarterback Rohan Davey also received money from Funes—some $107,000 that Funes had said was intended to help cover medical costs for a Children’s Hospital patient.
It’s important to note that unlike Alexander, Davey was not a student-athlete at the time of Funes’ payments to his family members, who later returned more than half of it to Funes at his request. Still, it raises questions, like:
When and how did Funes, a longtime LSU booster, become tight enough with the family of a former star quarterback that he would ask them to launder money for him? Taken in isolation the whole thing is plain weird, and the documents that outline the charges to which Funes pleaded guilty, so rich with some detail, beg so many other questions.
Did Funes really act alone? Will subsequent charges be filed? Were gifts and gift cards given to other players’ families? What about Funes’ friends and acquaintances outside of LSU circles? What were his motives? Why did he do it? What was really going on?
And, who was on the Butler Aviation charter flights Funes took with family and friends? Who were those friends? Were they connected to LSU athletics or OLOL? Why won’t Butler release the flight manifests? If there’s nothing to hide, why not come clean in the full interest of transparency and accountability?
LSU says only that it has referred the matter to the NCAA and has no further comment. The NCAA won’t return phone calls or acknowledge an investigation is underway, much less provide an update on it. That’s the NCAA way.
But that’s not good enough, and it shouldn’t be. Too much money and credibility is at stake. Baton Rouge deserves to know the full story behind the Funes scandal—even if it would rather not—and the extent of the involvement of all those who played a role, however innocent it may have been.
Full disclosure is the only way to truly move forward and put a scandal to rest once and for all.