ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The upheaval caused by accusations that former University of New Mexico Athletic Director John Koenig bilked the school is neither the first nor the worst of the scandals to rock the university's sports program in recent years.
The seizure of department records; the ongoing resignations, suspensions and transfers; the calls for greater oversight -- all are familiar to those who saw the department crumble nearly 10 years ago when a criminal investigation led to fraud convictions for basketball coach Norm Ellenberger, UNM's winningest coach during his eight year-tenure, and assistant Manny Goldstein.
Albuquerque District Attorney Steve Schiff says he still is unsure if Koenig or anyone else will face criminal charges in the scandal that broke in mid-July but Koenig's admission that he was reimbursed twice for at least five trips led to his forced resignation July 22.
'Koenig has acknowledged the reimbursement. We have to look at our ability to prove fraudulent intent,' Schiff said.
Koenig, former University of Illinois assistant athletic director, was hired in March 1987 partly because he had a reputation for fiscal responsibility. He replaced John Bridgers, who had steered the school out of the Ellenberger mess dubbed 'Lobogate' and ruled for eight quiet years until the department in mid-1987 found itself with an $800,000 deficit.
Bridgers had been hired to restore dignity to a department left decimated by an investigation that revealed numerous football and basketball players were attending on forged academic transcripts.
In the end, it wasn't the forged transcripts that resulted in convictions but the subsequent discovery that Goldstein and Ellenberger, who took the Lobos to two Western Athletic Conference titles, had forged travel vouchers and been paid for trips never taken.
By then, several basketball coaches, a half dozen football players and nearly all the basketball players were gone and the school was slapped with two years of NCAA sanctions and a hard-to-shake reputation.
Investigators were not even looking for problems in athletics when a wiretap on the phone of a man suspected of gambling turned up a Goldstein-Ellenberger conversation about a forged transcript.
That led to an examination of college athletics and the pressure to win.
The coaches were cleared of fraud in the transcript rigging and Ellenberger and Goldstein received light sentences partly because they were seen as bit players in a nationwide scandal.
'What went on under Norm is chicken feed -- I mean chicken feed - compared to what's going on around the country,' said Ellenberger's replacement Gary Colson.
Koenig is unlikely to use the same excuse.
'Ellenberger was bending the rules to try to get players and that was clearly the result of pressure,' said UNM President Gerald May. 'What we're seeing here (with Koenig) is misjudgment. In a big organization, you put in financial controls but nothing substitutes for good judgment.'
Reporters dug into Koenig's financial records after learning he had paid some $11,000 to the University of Illinois for unauthorized reimbursements he received while Illinois assistant athletic director from 1983 to 1987.
In New Mexico, Koenig's records show he was reimbursed for at least eight trips by both the university and through a discretionary account created by the Lobo Club, boosters who raise funds for UNM athletics.
He also was reimbursed by both the university and the Western Athletic Conference for three other trips. However, checks written by Koenig covering the WAC trips were found recently in a department file drawer.
The records also reveal Koenig, 44, spent nearly $30,000 of the Lobo Club money in his 15 months. The bulk of the money was spent on airfare and rental cars but Koenig also bought $1,200 worth of tickets to the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, rented a tuxedo to attend the symphony, rented a mobile phone for a business trip and bought gifts for staff.
The Lobo Club is holding on to some $300,000 it raised for university athletic programs this year until an audit of the discretionary account is completed -- a move that has university officials worried about another deficit.
Club members are talking about putting restrictions on the use of the discretionary account. The state auditor has recommended the same thing.
After paying back the University of Illinois, Koenig said he had made a mistake but had misunderstood his role in public relations.
'We all get caught up in the fast-paced life,' he told reporters in Illinois. 'It was never my intention to take advantage of my position. I simply wanted to be part of the organization.'
After promising to pay back the University of New Mexico, Koenig called the double-dipping a bookeeping oversight.
'It's just the fast pace of this job,' he said. 'I'm signing things all the time.'
He said he has done his best to use the Lobo Club account wisely in his role as an ambassador for the university.
'This is normal business procedure,' he said. 'It's part of the job.'
adv weekend, Aug.