NU Foundation’s IRS Form 990 Lists “Investment Advisors” with P.O. Boxes that Don’t Match Companies or Cities

July 22, 2012


Post Office boxes long have raised red flags. After last week, the Russell Wassendorf, Sr. story adds one more cautionary tale to the p.o. problem.

Turns out that a Post Office box in the tiny town of Cedar Falls, Iowa was used for yeas by the Iowa investment fraudster  Wassendorf  “to trick [federal] regulators into thinking they were dealing with U.S. Bancorp.”

According to Bloomberg news, federal investigators believe that Wassendorf doctored account statements from the lender to inflate customer funds and listed the bank branch’s address as a mailbox he controlled.”

Which brings me to the NU Foundation. Several years ago, I began examining the Foundation’s annual reports and IRS 990 Forms. I discovered all sorts of “irregularities” and numbers that just plain didn’t add up but in the course of my research, the most troubling discovery dealt with Post Office boxes.

By law, the Foundation is required to list the compensation of the five highest paid individual contractors on their annual IRS Form 990. The five are listed beginning with the person or company that received the highest payout to the lowest. For the record, no other college-affiliated Foundations – that I perused – have as its top five expenses all “investment advisors” as the NU Foundation does; most list hi-tech enterprises, facilities, buildings, construction companies etc.

In the Foundation’s latest report – as it has for the recent past – it lists five different “investment advisors” including Union Bank which received $362,629.00 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011. (Given the overlapping directors of the Boards of Union Bank, Nelnet, and the NU Foundation, this seems to me to be a direct conflict of interest but that’s another story.)

Of the other four “investment advisors” listed, two companies have addresses that match their cities, websites, telephone numbers, and other verifying information.

Two named advisors’ are companies, however, that merely list Post Office boxes rather than actual addresses. Worse, the cities don’t match the companies.

The first is Cambridge Associates, LLC which lists a Post Office box in Uniondale, New York. The NU Foundation gave Cambridge Associates $454,476 for “investment advice.”

Trouble is, there is no Cambridge Associates in Uniondale as far as my investigation could determine. In one city-sponsored list, more than 200 small businesses in Uniondale are cited; many are mortgage companies, payday loan companies (lots of those), and financial/investment-related firms but  Cambridge Associates is not one of them. There is no Cambridge website, telephone number, or any of the standard fare that allow citizens to connect/find/reach or contact companies.

There is a Cambridge Associates headquartered in Arlington, Virginia whose clients do include a Who’s Who of top tier American college endowments. Two Cambridge employees would not tell me whether the NU Foundation is a client but they were absolutely adamant that they have no connection to Uniondale, New York and that none of their investment advisors would be “using a Post Office box in Uniondale, New York.”

The second company of the five is listed by the NU Foundation as the Wellington Trust Company; they received $325,122 from the Foundation for helping to manage “part” of the NU Foundation’s large endowment.

Trouble is, again, there is no Wellington Trust Company in Newark, New Jersey. Yet, for the Wellington Trust Company address, the NU Foundation gives a Newark, New Jersey Post Office box.

Additionally, I spoke with three different employees of the Wellington Trust Company  – of Boston – all of whom said that none of their advisors would be using a Post Office Box in Newark, New Jersey as an address.

As with Cambridge Associates and Uniondale – wherein there is a Cambridge but it’s in Virginia not New York – there is a Wellington Trust but it’s in Boston not Newark, New Jersey.

Given the Wassendorf fraud which was perpetrated with only a little old Post Office Box, I am calling on the new head of the NU Foundation, Brian Hastings, to provide actual addresses for both Cambridge Associates and the Wellington Trust Company who together received $800,000 (eight hundred thousand) hard-earned dollars from loyal University of Nebraska alumni.

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