May 14th, 2012 | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: Politics, Schools

Ex-PSU Exec Mike Burton Pleads Guilty To Criminal Charge:Updated

mike_burtonMike Burton
Mike Burton, a former long-time public official who most recently served as vice-provost at Portland State University, pleaded guilty today to a charge of official misconduct in Multnomah County Court.


Burton, 70, agreed to make restitution of $4,503 for a personal 11-day European trip he took at university expense last year. He will serve 18 months probation and carry out community service.


As WW reported last summer, Burton abruptly resigned in the summer of 2011 in front of a scathing Oregon University System audit that uncovered his use of PSU funds to cover what amounted to a vacation trip.


Burton served in the Legislature and as the top executive of the Metro regional government before taking a job at Portland State in 2003.


He told PSU officials he was going to attend professional conferences but those conferences were either fictional or not taking place while Burton was in Europe. The university subsequently referred the case to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission. Before the Ethics Commission investigated, however, Multnomah County District Attorney opened a criminal investigation, which took precedence over the ethics probe.


That criminal investigation was somewhat unusual—Portland State did not request it, saying that since Burton agree to pay the money back, the university was satisfied.


And in a state where misdeeds often seem to go unpunished, nobody would have been terribly surprised if criminal investigation ended quietly.


But a chastened Burton appeared in court this afternoon and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. In addition to probation, Burton must do 40 hours of community service, write an apology and must seek court approval for any future public employment.


Updated at 3:44 pm: 



The two lawyers who led the criminal investigation into Burton's travel, Gary Meabe, a senior deputy district attorney for Multnomah County and Andrew Campbell, a senior assistant attorney general, jointly wrote a letter (PDF) to their bosses expressing concerns about Portland State's travel reimbursement policies that went beyond the scope of their investigation. (The travel office at PSU handles an average of 775 reimbursements worth $316,300 monthly, according to a recent audit).


"We remain concerned about issues that came to light during the course of this investigation and whether adequate controls and procedures exist," the lawyers wrote to District Attorney Mike Schrunk and Deputy Attorney General Mary Williams on May 14.

"A system that both requires a much more substantial business purpose justification and reliable proof that those purposes are authentic would act as a deterrent to abuse."


Portland State spokesman Scott Gallagher provided the following response via email:


The following policies, procedures, and staff changes in the School of Extended Studies have been put in place to improve business practices and controls: ·

 All deans and vice provosts are now required to provide more detailed, daily travel itineraries prior to dates of travel.
· No travel reimbursement will be approved without a Travel Authorization form signed prior to the dates of travel.
· More documentation is required to verify that travel occurred as outlined.
· A fiscal officer in Extended Studies was hired that meets regularly with the University business office.
· A new software system was purchased that more accurately tracks revenue and expenditures.

“The system worked,” said Roy Koch, provost of PSU, in a statement. “The University system’s checks and balances discovered the discrepancies, Mike resigned, he pleaded guilty, and we got our money back. We do not tolerate university employees using public funds for private trips or any other inappropriate purpose."
 
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