Former Westfield State president agrees to settle school spending investigation for $185,000

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SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts — The former president of Westfield State University has agreed to pay $185,000 to settle a state investigation into his spending of school funds.

Former state Attorney General Martha Coakley sued Evan Dobelle last August, alleging he used school-issued credit cards and school funds to make personal purchases and take vacations costing nearly $100,000. Dobelle denied any wrongdoing and defended his spending as the university's president from January 2008 until his resignation in November 2013.

The proposed settlement was filed Wednesday in Suffolk Superior Court and must be approved by a judge.

The deal calls for Dobelle to pay $185,000 in damages, legal fees and costs for the state investigation. He also agreed to drop his lawsuit against Westfield State and to not work or volunteer at any higher education institution in Massachusetts. Earlier this year, Dobelle withdrew another lawsuit against state and school officials blaming them for his departure, citing high legal bills.

No one answered the phone at Dobelle's home in Pittsfield on Thursday. His lawyer, Darrell Mook, declined to comment.

Coakley alleged Dobelle misused public funds for trips that were nothing but weeklong vacations with family and friends, meals at high-end restaurants and gatherings at a private men's social club in California.

The lawsuit claimed Dobelle knowingly submitted to the university false claims for payment of personal expenses totaling at least $59,000. It also charges that Dobelle made at least $39,000 worth of travel requests, falsely stating those trips were for official university business.

Dobelle, former president of both Trinity College in Hartford and the University of Hawaii, has said that the spending in question resulted in a significant "return on investment" for the public university in western Massachusetts, and that he was proud of his accomplishments as president. His lawyer also criticized Coakley for not seeking Dobelle's side of the story before suing him.

Interim Westfield State University President Elizabeth Preston said in a statement that the school is "gratified" by the proposed settlement.

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