EVMS puts 3 employees on administrative leave; launches investigation into contract practices

A vice president of the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), her husband and another man have been placed on unexplained administrative leave.

The situation may be just be the tip of the iceberg of problems bubbling to the surface at an increasingly troubled EVMS administrative staff.

Shelia Sands, vice president of Institutional Advancement, her husband, James, and Ira Schwartz were sent home, one source said, without explanation on Jan. 27.

EVMS changes auditors

While there was no public explanation of the reason, EVMS dismissed its long time auditor and accounting firm May 14, 2002.

Sources said Goodman & Company, which had been the school's accounting firm since it was a twinkle in the eye of its founders, was fired and replaced with  the firm of KPMG.

"They had to pay about $40,000 more a to KPMG than they did to Goodman & Company, just to bring the new firm up to speed." one source said.

"I'm not sure why they made the change," he said, "and they did it before the end of EVMS's fiscal year, which was also strange timing."

Sands' husband is director of auxiliary services and Schwartz was identified as head of security and maintenance at EVMS.  The school gave Ms. Sands a new 18-month contract about 1 1/2 months ago.  Her husband and Swartz, however, are 'at will' workers who can be terminated in 2-weeks without cause.

Sources said lawyers 'are crawling all over the campus' looking at letters and contracts, implying there have been allegations of contract irregularities.  One source also said the FBI was involved, but that couldn't be confirmed.

Ms. Sands said she couldn't comment about anything having to do with the situation, when reached at home Friday afternoon.  

What is going on @ EVMS

"Those are the most impossible people in the world to try to deal with over there," a Virginia Beach contractor said of trying to do business with EVMS.

"They all have the answers.  You can't tell them anything.  They don't want to listen. 

"If you succeed in getting their attention and getting them to listen, they then come up with all these 'political' reasons why they can't work with you.

"It seems like they are paralyzed to do business with you unless you are politically connected.  I have never heard of the people involved in the current situation. Mine had to do with technical equipment.  

"You just leave there, shaking your head and wondering how does this place operate if every contractor has the same experiences I have had over the years," the man explained.

One source said, "The president sent them home without any explanation January 27.  They've been left in limbo since."

According to sources, Sands is totally baffled by the action since she is not involved in administration or negotiation of any contracts.

James Sands, her husband, however could be involved in some contract activity, a source said,  and Schwartz works for him.  But there were no reports in irregularities involving them, just unexplained leave.

A financial contributor to the school said the way the EVMS administration is handling the matter is 'horrible.'  "If there is a problem, they need to get this out in the public,"  he said.  

"This institution was built on the blood, sweat, tears, energy and money of the people of Tidewater.  It is a community institution and the community deserves to know what these people are doing."

Jane Gardner, associate director of public affairs, refused to comment on the situation.  "We don't have anything to say," she replied to all questions about the situation.

While some speculated the situation will be soon resolved favorably, others seemed to think this was a power play to replace some of the older hands in the school with others more obligated and loyal to some of the administrators.

"You just can't tell at this point," a source close to the situation said, "whether this is just a witch hunt or something substantive." 

In the meantime, Ms. Sands was advised to hire a lawyer, but she would neither confirm nor deny that she had done that when called Friday afternoon.

While the campus appears tranquil on the surface there is an undercurrent of controversy and discontent boiling that reaches into the highest levels of the administration, including apparent violation of state law.