Lawsuit alleges Chicago State professor misused student pharmacist association funds

By Scott Holland | Apr 14, 2017

A Chicago State University professor is, for a second time, a defendant in court in Chicago in a legal action involving the Student National Pharmaceutical Association, this time facing accusations she misused association funds.

Carmita Coleman, of Frankfort, became national executive director of the San Antonio, Texas-based SNPhA, in 2007. On May 4, 2016, The National Pharmaceutical Association filed a complaint in Cook County Circuit Court alleging Coleman refused to step down when requested and attempted to make the subsidiary autonomous without authorization. That case was dismissed on Nov. 15 after Coleman, on Oct. 20, agreed to turn over SNPhA accounts and records to new Executive Director Kimberly Lewis, according to court documents.

On April 12, however, the SNPhA itself became the plaintiff, suing Coleman on allegations that, after Lewis took over, officials discovered Coleman “had withdrawn over $541,032.58 in cash from SNPhA bank accounts without a legitimate basis and used the debit card for SNPhA to make $110,240.05 in unauthorized purchases.”

In addition to her role as a CSU professor, Coleman also is interim dean of the school’s pharmacy program. She began her first volunteer two-year term as SNPhA executive director on Jan. 1, 2007, and began her final appointment in 2014. The complaint states Coleman’s financial report on fiscal 2012-2013, which she submitted to the NPhA board on Aug. 25, 2013, stated net income of $42,388 instead of a net loss of $5,839.20. The report she filed on Jan. 30, 2016, stated net income of $63,692, instead of net income of $8,384.40.

On Nov. 10, 2015, NPhA President Carleton Maxwell submitted to the SNPhA Board the nomination of Lewis, of Campbell University, in North Carolina, to succeed Coleman following a 60-day review period. However, the complaint said, at the Jan. 30 annual board meeting, Coleman announced the SNPhA Executive Committee met the previous night and decided to propose changes to its bylaws to give itself the power to appoint its own executive director.

That dispute gave rise to the initial Cook County lawsuit. After it was dismissed, Lewis, Coleman and Cornetta Levi, former NPhA president, went to a Bank of America office to have accounts transferred from Coleman to Lewis. A bank agent, however, informed them the transfer could not happen because of pending charges on the accounts. In reviewing those old accounts, Lewis allegedly found charges for a Carnival cruise and Southwest Airlines flight, which led her to request all relevant statements from June 1, 2014, through Oct. 1, 2016.

While processing that request, Bank of America purportedly told Lewis she was a “sub-user” on the accounts and that Coleman remained the primary account holder. Lewis finally gained full control on Nov. 4 and got the statements on Dec. 19, which included one savings and two checking accounts. Lewis sent the information to Kendra Roundtree, former NPhA treasurer, who allegedly discovered Coleman had allegedly made $268,570 in cash withdrawals from ATMs near her home, including many occasions with separate withdrawals from both checking accounts on the same day, regularly for $680, just below Bank of America’s $700 daily limit.

According to the lawsuit, Roundtree then sought statements from as far back as 2011, in which she allegedly found additional unauthorized withdrawals and checks of $272,462, as well as debit card purchases totaling $110,224. The tab for expenses unrelated to SNPhA business ran to $651,256, per the complaint.

Formal allegations include conversion and breach of fiduciary duty. In addition to a jury trial, the SNPhA wants the court to award punitive damages and legal fees as well as to impose a constructive trust over the misappropriated assets.

Representing the SNPhA in the matter are attorneys from DiMonte & Lizak, LLC, of Park Ridge.

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