October 23, 2013

Auditor’s office obtains ECSU phone records

New records, covering four years beginning in September 2009, show phone calls from Elizabeth City State University to Senegal cost more than $142,000. The university has said it is also conducting an inquiry.

The state auditor’s office is apparently investigating international phone calls made from Elizabeth City State University as officials at the school say they also are conducting an inquiry into tens of thousands spent on calls abroad.

Email messages show that an investigator with the auditor’s office obtained records of the calls in September and October.

New records show phone calls from the university to the West African nation of Senegal cost more than $142,000 in a nearly four-year period that began in September 2009.

The News & Observer last month detailed more than $100,000 in calls to Senegal from ECSU in a narrower period covering 27 months.

The new records show there were about 5,500 calls made from the university to Senegal since September 2009.

Records show more than half those calls were for only 1 or 2 minutes in length. The cost of those brief calls alone was $35,375.

In all, university phones called nearly 500 different numbers in Senegal. More than one-third were to numbers dialed only one time, records show.

‘I need your help again’

University officials have not been able to explain the calls, which all are listed as coming from the main ECSU number. But documents and interviews suggest the calls are tied to a federal program in which ECSU professors wrote and helped produce textbooks for Senegalese schoolchildren from 2009 to 2012.

The textbook program director, ECSU professor Abdou Maty Sene, said previously there were “a lot of phone calls” from the university to Senegal and that the program was “very demanding as far as the communication is concerned.”

The calls from ECSU were among the most expensive in state government in that period, according to a review of state agency international calls by The N&O.

Email messages show Drew Baker, a special investigator with the auditor’s office who specializes in fraud, waste and abuse in state government, sought and obtained the records of international calls made from ECSU for at least two chunks of time last month and again this month.

Baker obtained data at first for late 2012 into early 2013.

Then, on Oct. 1, Baker wrote to state technology specialists and thanked them for the previous data while saying, “I now need your help again.” He sought more data about ECSU international calls going back to 2009.

Baker could not be reached Wednesday.

Bill Holmes, a spokesman for the office of State Auditor Beth Wood, said the office could not confirm or deny it is conducting an investigation.

A spokeswoman for ECSU, Kesha Williams, said Wednesday that the university’s internal inquiry is continuing.

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