Kent State University had plans to name its basketball court “Cope Court” during a ceremony before this Saturday’s game, in honor of alum Jason Cope, who gave $1 million to the school.
The event was called off, though, after the student newspaper’s enterprise reporter dug into Cope’s past. Doug Brown reported:
Cope was the branch manager of a financial firm that defrauded 190 investors of $8.7 million in late 1999 and early 2000. Cope was one of four defendants required to pay a total of more than $19 million in penalties, according to litigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission and court documents.
Asked about the $1 million donation and Cope’s SEC violations on January 4, athletic director Joel Nielsen said that “it was an action that was 12 years ago, it was fully litigated and he abided by the letter of the litigation.
“Obviously we were aware of the litigation of 10 to 12 years ago,” he said about Jason Cope, who was to become the namesake of the basketball court.
The Daily Kent Stater editorial board wrote on Monday:
We’re wondering why Kent State would knowingly accept money from someone with a disconcerting financial background.
At first glance, it makes us question the athletic department’s ethical standards. Sure, the university can accept the money, but should it? It doesn’t quite seem right.
The Plain Dealer reports Brown spent two weeks working on his Cope story and editors planned to run it on Monday. It was posted on Friday, though, after Cope announced that he was withdrawing his gift.
UPDATE: I asked Doug Brown to tell my readers about his investigation. His email is after the jump.
From Daily Kent Stater enterprise reporter DOUG BROWN:
-Here’s the press release announcing that Jason & Stacie Cope had donated $1 million to the athletic department, and that the court would be named Cope Court on January 14. (The press release was taken down on kentstatesports.com, but I’ll explain that in a moment)
— The web editor of Kentwired.com (the collective website for student media), Brad Tansey, sent me an email on Jan. 1 that the donor may have been caught up in an S.E.C. investigation and that I should look into it.
— I came back to Kent on Jan. 2 to work on it. It was the week before classes started and training week for newspaper staff. I spent all day and night Monday and Tuesday going through everything online finding litigation involving Jason Cope, confirmed it was the same guy who donated the money. After confirming it was the same guy, I read all of the litigation and news articles from that time, and checked online court records. I wanted to get it done before the semester started.
— I got in touch with Judith Burns at the Securities & Exchange Commission and she helped me find the court document from the District Court. I asked her about the money Cope individually owed/paid, she contacted the collections people who said that was not public.
— On Wednesday I began asking questions to Todd Vatter, the department spokesman, about the specifics of the Cope Court ceremony: what was planned for the revealing, and what the court would look like. He answered those questions but wouldn’t give me Cope’s phone number after telling him I had been trying for two days to track him down (through the business he owns, and any possible number listed) and he said he couldn’t release it in concern for the donor’s privacy.
— On Wednesday afternoon, I talked to athletic director Joel Nielsen. I asked him if the SEC investigation was brought up in the discussion of taking the donation/naming the court afternoon. He said it was, that they had discussions about that, and that it was in the best interest of the program. I asked him what he would say to critics who might think they shouldn’t take the money/name the court after him. His answers answers were short and kept mentioning that it was “10 to 12 years ago” and didn’t seem too concerned about it.
— On Thursday, after many hours trying to track down any possible contact avenues with Jason Cope, and being denied by the athletic department, I decided to drive to his house (50 minutes away in a wealthy suburb of Cleveland. Found the address through the county auditor.). He wasn’t there.
— I emailed the spokesman again on Thursday, telling him what I had been doing to try and reach Cope for comment, and asked him to forward my phone number to him and tell him I wanted to give him a chance to respond to what I was writing about. He emailed me back to tell me he had forwarded my info to the people in contact with Cope.
— After not hearing back from Cope, I wrote the story Friday afternoon. While writing it, I noticed that the press release was taken off the website. I didn’t think too much about it until I had finished writing, and got the email that it had been pulled by Cope (supposedly) about one hour before it would have been posted online. I then integrated the email into my article, and was soon after posted online.