WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Camellia Rice didn't mince words in her testimony about former Cape Fear Community College President Ted Spring. She worked as his Chief Financial Officer for the last two years of her 40 year career in the North Carolina Community College system and found his leadership so unsettling she decided to retire earlier than planned.
Dr. Spring resigned last year, in the wake of a series of WECT investigative reports about his questionable spending on everything from meals and airfare for his wife, to upgraded airline seats, to alcohol with his college-issued credit card.
Now, Spring is suing the school to reinstate him as president, and he's also seeking back pay and damages. Rice's recently released testimony in response to his lawsuit gives a much clearer picture of the lengths Spring allegedly went to attempting to financially benefit from the public institution.
Wanted to be "treated the same as the Chancellor"
When CFCC hired Spring, they declined to give him a house or a car. So Rice says he tried to get a house donated to the college so he could live in it for free.
"Dr. Spring had befriended the former Chancellor of UNCW, Gary Miller," Rice explained during her deposition. The UNCW Chancellor is given a residence and offered a car as part of their employment with the University system.
"It almost struck me that he thought he should be treated the same as the Chancellor," Rice continued. She said Spring had several of his Vice Presidents approach a couple who had a house for sale in Downtown Wilmington, hoping to convince them to donate it to the college.
"If the college owned a home that the president lived in, the college would be…responsible for all utilities, repairs, maintenance. He'd probably even have us pay the housekeeper, I kid you not," Rice testified.
After the first attempt fell through, Rice says Spring had the college approach actress Linda Lavin about donating her downtown home, as she was preparing to move out-of-state. That attempt also fell through, and at that point, Spring purchased a home.
Personal vacation expenses charged to college credit card
Rice also said that after he became President, Spring attempted to have the college pay for his and his wife's personal vacation expenses. Before a trip to California, Rice said Spring's assistant Michelle Lee specifically asked him not to use his college credit card for personal vacation expenses.
But when the credit card bill came in, Rice says there were over $1,000 in personal charges on it from his vacation.
"Michelle was livid," Rice recalled. "I told her… 'You scrutinize every item on that credit card…and make sure we don't pay one damn penny – excuse my French – of his vacation cost." Rice said after they protested, Spring wrote the college a check to reimburse the college for those expenses.
"He shouldn't have used [a college credit card] to begin with…. I could've been fired for that. Even if… my goal was to pay the college back, I still could've been fired for that," Rice said. "He should've known not to use a college credit card for his personal expenses…. That is common sense."
Rice said she was forced to use college vending funds to cover other expenses Dr. Spring insisted the college pay for, like alcohol during meals and his wife's travel costs. The community college system will not allow state money to be used for that, but the school has some discretion over the use of vending funds generated by vending machines and sales at the school bookstore.
Seat upgrades, expensive mileage reimbursements
When Rice questioned Spring's hundreds of dollars in charges for airline seat upgrades, she says explained to her "he was claustrophobic..and…that if he could not sit in the front seven rows of the plane… he could not fly… So if he was either claustrophobic or he lied, I don't know."
Rice says she told him from then on she would not authorize priority seating, so he started driving his car. She said that became another problem because it can be cost prohibitive to reimburse employees more than 50 cents a mile for driving for long distance trips.
"To drive to Florida and back, that could be $600, $700, you know?...It made me so mad. I said, 'I cannot believe …that greedy bastard has got 56 cents [a mile], whatever it was, on his travel and he's driving a free rental car," Rice recalled
But it wasn't just the long trips that caused her concern. Rice said Spring would drive his car to get mileage reimburse for distances so short it would have been quicker to walk.
"Really? Seriously? Did you, honest to God, drive your car two blocks to go down – down to the garage of the basement of Union Station, get in your car, drive two and a half blocks down, then try to find a place to park?" Rice wondered allowed. "There were multiple occasions he had one dollar [reimbursements].
Fears of tarnished legacy
"I spent 40 years as a community college employee, so how important do you think the community college system is to me?" Rice asked the attorneys deposing her. "It means a hell of a lot. So you know why I'm so angry with Dr. Spring, when he came in with his wheelings and dealings and his attitude or whatever you want to call it. At the end of my career -- at the end of my career, he – Cape Fear Community College's name is smeared; it takes my name right along with it."
The State Bureau of Investigation has been investigating Spring's spending. State prosecutors say they hope to have the SBI's findings so they can decide whether criminal charges are appropriate by this fall.