Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said Thursday that it is looking into possible criminal activity by the fund-raising arm of Roxbury Community College and the school’s Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, amid suspicions that money from a fund-raiser last year was mishandled.
The inquiry was lauched after a review by the state auditor, requested by the college, concluded that concerns raised by the college could “go beyond simple mismanagement,” Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office said.
This is the second time the popular athletic center has come under Bump’s microscope, and the latest in a string of mismanagement controversies to hit the school. A 2014 audit of the Lewis Center, which is run by RCC and owned by the state, uncovered sloppy record keeping and mishandled money.
Healey’s and Bump’s offices declined to provide further details Thursday, saying the inquiry is in the earliest stages. No charges have been filed.
Globe columnist Adrian Walker reported last month that RCC president Valerie Roberson, appointed three years ago after former president Terrence Gomes resigned amid turmoil, had asked the auditor’s office to look into the handling of $120,000 raised by the Massachusetts State Track Coaches Association at a fund-raiser at the Lewis Center in August 2015.
A variety of community groups as well as individuals use the center for sporting and other events.
That money is being held by Roxbury Community College Foundation, which raises private funds to help the college. Officials at the foundation did not respond Thursday to requests for comment.
The Lewis Center also recently dismissed its popular longtime director Keith McDermott, who was let go in September with no public explanation. And state lawmakers have been discussing a move to hand control of the Lewis Center to the University of Massachusetts Boston.
In a statement Thursday, Roberson said she launched an internal review into the management of money at the Lewis Center and the foundation over the summer, and its results led her to contact the auditor. She stressed that she continues to support the center, which provides athletic facilities for the Roxbury community and local public high schools as well as a home for intracollegiate athletics at the community college.
“For the past several weeks, some have questioned our commitment to the Reggie Lewis Center. Make no mistake about it — Roxbury Community College is invested in and dedicated to the proper and successful operation of Reggie Lewis Center, both for the college and the community,” she said.
In a separate statement, RCC board chairman Gerald Chertavian praised Roberson, saying trustees want the center to be “fiscally sound and properly managed” and will cooperate with any investigation.
But others at the school question Roberson’s motives.
Ruth Kiefson, a board member of the faculty union, said there has been a pattern of firing longtime employees lately. Two other staff members at the college were let go in the past three months, and two more were put on administrative leave, she said.
“This is not the first time they’ve done this, so whether or not there’s any illegal activity I have no idea, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they’re not just using this as a way to discredit Keith McDermott,” Kiefson said.
Roberson was appointed by trustees in 2013 after Gomes’s departure, after the school came under fire from federal and state regulators for a slew of shortcomings. Roberson pledged to fix problems at the school, which serves 2,200 students.
In addition to tapping Roberson, then-governor Deval Patrick replaced four of the board’s seven members and added two members.
The US Department of Education in 2012 investigated the school and found lapses in compliance with a campus crime-reporting law. The school was also given a warning by the same department for mishandling student financial aid.
In 2012, RCC was also the subject of an internal review by a prominent local litigator, Wayne Budd, which chronicled the role of administrators in violating federal campus safety laws, losing track of significant funds, and in one case paying an accuser to keep quiet.
That same report found the Lewis Center had no documentation for many years of cash income from ticket sales, the Globe reported at the time.
In the 2014 audit, Bump’s office found that the center lost thousands in uncollected rental fees as a result of lacking internal controls, but erroneously collected $24,280 in rental fees from public high schools that should have been able to meet at the center for free.
The center also did not adhere to RCC policies about purchasing, receiving, and paying for goods and services and was lax in conducting background checks of employees and submitting accurate time sheets, the audit found.