MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) — Three men associated with the Middle Tennesse State University’s Campus Outreach ministry organization have been indicted on charges for allegedly trying to defraud the university.
According to the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, there were multiple occasions on which campus director John Thomas “JT” Farmer, campus minister Greg McCall and MTSU’s former student chapter president Austin “Audy” Smothers provided false financial information to the university in an attempt to steal money.
Campus Outreach has been at MTSU since April 2012, and according to a description of the organization on the university’s website, exists to “help college students in their pursuit of a relationship with Christ” through Bible studies, retreats and a local church in Murfreesboro.
The Comptroller’s Office began investigating after MTSU’s Internal Audit staff discovered the three men had reportedly collaborated to submit a false reimbursement request to the university in an attempt to steal $4,700 in student activity fees.
They claimed the money was spent to pay for students to attend a virtual New Year’s conference in late 2020, as MTSU’s policies at that time prohibited reimbursements for travel expenses because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, investigators reportedly confirmed the men had planned for the conference to be held in person based on reservations they made at cabins in Gatlinburg. The event was subsequently canceled.
Farmer, McCall and Smothers also worked together to submit a fabricated receipt to MTSU to support their false reimbursement request in order to try to get the university to pay the claim, the Comptroller’s Office reported.
Authorities said further investigation revealed that Campus Outreach was also submitting false information regarding its financial condition to MTSU.
In one instance, on May 15, 2021, Campus Outreach submitted a financial report form indicating it had $95 in its bank account. However, investigators reviewed bank statements, which allegedly revealed the actual bank account balance on May 15, 2021 was $59,727.37.
In August, the Rutherford County Grand Jury indicted Farmer, McCall and Smothers each for one count of attempted theft of property over $2,500, one count of forgery, one count of criminal simulation and one count of false entries in a government record.
Despite their alleged efforts, MTSU President Sidney McPhee said in an emailed statement the student organization never received any funds, and if found guilty, the university plans to take further action to hold them accountable.
“I want to thank our administrators and auditors who reported their suspicions to the State Comptroller, who noted that because of the protocols we had in place to mitigate such risks, no funds were reimbursed to the student organization,” he said. “If these allegations are proven to be true, we will pursue every appropriate campus judicial action to hold those accountable.”
In a news release, Comptroller Jason Mumpower commended the university’s response to the situation.
“I am pleased to note that MTSU officials have made significant updates to the university’s Student Activity Fee reimbursement procedures since this issue was first recognized,” Mumpower said. “Establishing and following clear policies and procedures, which include reviewing required documentation, helps prevent fraudulent activity from occurring.”