AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn University has hired a law firm to investigate an allegation that a part-time academic support staffer took a final exam for at least one football player from the 2015 team.
A source told Outside the Lines that a mentor in Auburn's student-athlete support services department took an online final exam for at least one football player. The source said a tutor who worked with the mentor became aware of the alleged misconduct while reviewing a football player's academic records in February, noticing that the player had received a perfect grade on a final exam only a few weeks into the course. The source said the player told the tutor he had not taken the exam.
After hearing that, the tutor alerted the mentor's supervisor, the source said. In August, the tutor who had reported the allegation was told her job wouldn't be renewed, according to the source; the tutor then reported the issue to Auburn's compliance director and the athletic department's human resources office.
The Auburn athletic department confirmed that the law firm of Lightfoot, Franklin & White of Birmingham, Alabama, was hired on Aug. 31, but a statement from an athletic department spokesman on Wednesday called the allegation of academic impropriety "false."
"It's simply not true," the statement reads. "The person making the accusation is a part-time employee placed on administrative leave on Aug. 31 because of a dispute with a coworker. She is making claims not supported by facts, and based on what ESPN told us, she keeps changing her story. Neither she, her attorney nor our investigation have produced anything to support her claims."
ESPN reporters have not disclosed the identity of any sources to Auburn officials. In seeking comment about the allegation, reporters shared additional information with Auburn as new and more-detailed information became available to them.
The tutoring investigation is the latest in a series of probes within the Auburn athletic department, which is facing alleged misconduct in men's basketball and women's softball, as well as defending a federal civil lawsuit filed against athletic director Jay Jacobs and the school's board of trustees by a former baseball coach.
The Auburn statement issued Wednesday says the tutor signed 38 bimonthly time sheets during her employment "stating that she has no knowledge or has not witnessed or assisted a student-athlete in participating in academic dishonesty. She has also signed compliance forms indicating no knowledge of wrongdoing."
A follow-up email states that the school's investigation "included a call to the accused former student-athlete who categorically denied any wrongdoing."
An attorney for the tutor -- who spoke to Outside the Lines on the condition of anonymity to protect the client's identity -- shared an email that was sent to the tutor on Aug. 31, in which an Auburn assistant athletic director advised the tutor that she was being placed on paid administrative leave while "the inquiry takes place" and "compliance goes through its process." The email did not indicate the tutor was being placed on administrative leave because of a dispute with a co-worker, as the Auburn statement released on Wednesday said.
In that August email, the assistant AD also wrote that the mentor had been placed on administrative leave; however, the mentor on Tuesday told Outside the Lines that she had not been placed on administrative leave before leaving the program.
The mentor denied the tutor's allegation to Outside the Lines.
"I'm shocked and surprised by that. It's not true," said the mentor, who left Auburn shortly after the allegations surfaced. "I've never done anything with any of my interactions with my students that would be inappropriate."
The mentor said her departure in August from the university after eight years was solely to take care of an ailing family member and had nothing to do with an investigation or the allegations.
The mentor worked in the Tiger Mentor Program, which is "designed for any student-athlete who has a history of academic challenges or who needs academic assistance as they transition from high school to Auburn University," according to the department's website.
"A major tenet of the program is to meet each student where they are academically, and to provide each individual student what he or she needs to be successful," the website says. "The Tiger Mentor Program supports students who have education impacting disabilities, as well as those who benefit from individualized academic support. ... The Academic Mentor will assist the student with study and learning skills, including but not limited to: time management, organization, memorization techniques, reading and comprehension, note taking, test taking, and other appropriate study methods as needed."
Outside the Lines brought the allegation to the attention of President Steven Leath this week. In a statement issued Wednesday, he said: "I take the allegation very seriously. While the independent investigation has found no evidence to date to support the claims, I'm actively engaged as the investigation continues."
Lightfoot, Franklin & White was hired by Auburn earlier this year to investigate allegations elsewhere in the athletic department. One of the inquiries centers on allegations that former men's basketball assistant coach Chuck Person accepted $91,500 in bribes over a 10-month period to influence Tigers players when choosing financial advisers, shoe companies and agents.
Person, who is Auburn's all-time leading scorer and was associate head coach under Bruce Pearl, was one of 10 men arrested by FBI agents on Sept. 26 after a two-year clandestine investigation into college basketball corruption. Person, 53, faces six federal charges of corruption, bribery and fraud, and could face up to 80 years in prison.
Auburn officials have indefinitely suspended Person without pay. He made an appearance in U.S. District Court in New York on Tuesday and was released on $100,000 bond.
Attorneys from Lightfoot, Franklin & White also were retained in August to conduct an investigation of Auburn's softball program, specifically whether former assistant coach Corey Myers engaged in inappropriate behavior with players. Corey Myers resigned on March 30.
On May 31, a former softball player, Alexa Nemeth, filed a Title IX complaint with the university alleging that "Coach Clint Myers knowingly let his son Corey Myers have relations and pursue relations with multiple members of the team." An attorney for Nemeth sent a letter to the school and the Alabama governor in July, claiming the program was "toxic" and "lacked any kind of institutional control." Lightfoot, Franklin & White's review of the softball program is ongoing.
Outside The Lines reported on Friday that Clint Myers was reprimanded in his previous job as head coach at Arizona State University for issues involving Corey as well, according to records released by his former employer. The ASU findings did not concern inappropriate behavior with athletes; they were related to NCAA and university policy issues, but the school explicitly stated Corey was not allowed to be part of the softball program.
Auburn officials told Outside the Lines they had inquired about Myers' tenure at ASU with ASU officials, including compliance staff, prior to his hiring. However, ASU's chief compliance official told Outside the Lines in an email this week that shortly after Myers was hired, someone from Auburn called him to inquire about Corey Myers, and he informed Auburn officials what had been Corey's status with the team.
In September 2015, Jacobs fired Auburn baseball coach Sunny Golloway after only two seasons, alleging he "knowingly and repeatedly broke Auburn and NCAA rules, including an attempt to destroy evidence of his violations." The NCAA committee on infractions later cleared Golloway of committing any Level I or Level II infractions.
In May 2016, Golloway filed a federal lawsuit against Jacobs, Auburn's board of trustees and other athletics department employees, alleging that he was unjustly fired and that the school owed him a $1 million buyout. The case is pending in U.S. District Court in Opelika, Alabama.
The developments have led to local speculation about the athletic department's leadership. On Sept. 30, Al.com reported that Leath and the board of trustees "have laid the groundwork" to end Jacobs' tenure as athletic director.
"Unless the leadership changes its current position, which it discussed in a conference call this week, the only variables are who will replace Jacobs and when the transition will take place," the report said.
"The report is inaccurate," Leath said in a statement.
On Sept. 6, the editorial board of The Plainsman, Auburn's student newspaper, called for Jacobs' firing or resignation, writing that "Jacobs' handling of the [softball] allegations has been at best negligent and at worst crooked, and he needs to step down or be removed from his position so Auburn can move forward."
Jacobs, a former Auburn walk-on football player and longtime athletic department employee, was promoted to athletic director in 2004. Under his watch, the Tigers have won 11 national championships and 24 SEC titles across all sports. The athletic department's annual revenue increased from $46 million in 2004 to $145 million last year, according to Jacobs' bio on the athletic department's website.
In 2017, the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics/Under Armour named Jacobs one of its national athletic directors of the year, and The Sports Business Journal named him one of five finalists for the same honor.
The No. 10 Tigers, who have won four football games in a row since losing 14-6 at Clemson on Sept. 9, play at LSU on Saturday.