Friday, August 13, 2004

Dobelle siphoned off
donation for Jewish
studies at UH

The donor asks that the money
be restored to its original purpose

Evan Dobelle authorized the diversion from a $25,000 gift from a wealthy New York donor who specified that the money be used for Jewish studies, according to documents released yesterday by the University of Hawaii.

The Star-Bulletin reported earlier this week that the Martin Gruss Philanthropic Fund made the donation in May 2002 to fund lecturers in Jewish studies but that the money was used to pay for thousands of dollars of Dobelle's expenses, including a $7,000 promotional video.

Dobelle initially informed the foundation that the use of the Gruss donation was restricted when the gift was made in 2002, the documents show. Dobelle and former foundation President Elizabeth Sloane also acknowledged the donation and its restriction in letters to Gruss.


In a Feb. 27, 2003, foundation document released yesterday, Dobelle informed the foundation that money from the Gruss Fund carried no restriction.

A memo from Dobelle's executive secretary, Kristin Blanchfield, also dated Feb. 27, 2003, said that the restrictions were established by Dobelle and not by the Gruss fund and that the money could be used at his discretion.

Gruss, in a July 21, 2004, affidavit, complained that he was never consulted nor informed that the restrictions had been lifted. Gruss has since asked that the money be restored to its original educational purpose.

Rick Fried, Dobelle's attorney, attributed the dispute to communications problems. He said that the issues have been resolved when the UH Board of Regents and Dobelle met in a mediated out-of-court settlement.

The donation, which was kept separate from other foundation money, was used for various foundation expenses, including a promotional video for Dobelle when he was named Salesperson of the Year in May 2003 by the Sales & Marketing Executives of Honolulu.

The video was made by local producer Heather Giugni, who was hired by former UH Vice President Paul Costello.

Regents initially fired Dobelle "for cause" in June but rescinded the termination after they and Dobelle reached a mediated, out-of-court settlement in which Dobelle agreed to resign and accept a $1.05 million severance payment. The regents have never publicly disclosed the "cause" for Dobelle's initial firing.

Gruss, 61, is a New York merchant banker who has given generously to several art and medical research institutions on the mainland. His firm, Gruss & Co., is a privately held investment company founded in 1940.

He also is a former investor in the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball team and serves on the board of New Jersey-based Mack Cali Realty Corp., which invests in office properties on the East Coast.

Established in 1955, the UH Foundation is a tax-exempt entity that supports the university through fund-raising and other activities.

University of Hawaii
UH Foundation



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