A lawsuit suit filed in state Supreme Court charges that Suffolk County Community College and its top officials have misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars from a nearly $4 million-a-year mandatory student fee intended for extracurricular activities.
The suit was brought by accounting professor Robert Weinstein, who has worked for the college 38 years and who was part of a 2012 audit team reviewing the fees, and his son-in-law, Craig Zerolla, who worked for the athletics department from 2010 to 2012.
The suit claims the college association, which administers money from the fee, "has improperly utilized the college fee to fund other than extracurricular activities, more pointedly, to pay expenses which should be funded through the . . . [college] operating budget."
Each Suffolk student is required to pay an $8 per credit hour fee -- up to $196 a year -- but the suit maintains that only $1.50 of each student's fee went to intramural sports and each club received an annual budget of just $450.
College spokesman Drew Biondo defended the college's actions: "Every dollar goes to benefit students." He added that Weinstein "has not been damaged in any way and we do not understand the basis of the suit."
The lawsuit comes after Weinstein and his son Eric, both accounting professors at the school, were part of a confidential committee begun in April, 2011 to review the association's operations. Their report was delivered to school officials in January, 2012 but never made public.
"The trustees has been misled, none of the recommendations have been implemented and students have suffered greatly from it," said Weinstein in an interview. The suit wants the college to reform the association's operations and refund the improperly spent money to its coffers.
The lawsuit alleges the association improperly spent $33,000 on massages, $150,000 for college library furniture, bought and donated a van to the college, and spent fee money that should come from the county capital budget for computers, video and theater equipment.
The suit also claims the association spent nearly $300,000 on student jobs that were never properly approved, had no job descriptions or interview process, and required no showing of financial need. In addition, the suit contends that association funds were used to help fund the food services on the eastern campus.
The association bylaws require a six- to 10-member board, but the suit contends it has had only four members -- all of them members of the college trustees -- which creates an "illegal conflict of interest." The suit maintains that other state schools have faculty and students in charge of allocating funds, as recommended by state guidelines.
Biondo said Suffolk's association, which has been in existence for more than 50 years, predates the state guidelines, which are not mandatory. He confirmed that the association spends money on massages for students at final exam time to relieve tension, but added, "It is a practice that exists widely as many colleges."