Sweet Briar supporters hear conspiracy talk from whistleblower turned PI

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Private investigator Everett Stern claims Sweet Briar officials have engaged in fraud in their attempts to close the college. Photo: Hawes Spencer Private investigator Everett Stern claims Sweet Briar officials have engaged in fraud in their attempts to close the college. Photo: Hawes Spencer

The conspiracy theories swirling around the planned closure of Sweet Briar College found a voice last Saturday in the form of a financial whistleblower who says his private investigative firm has uncovered fraud and conspiracy.

“I see an injustice,” said Everett Stern. “The college can be saved.”

In his Saturday, May 9 meeting with students, faculty, staff and alumnae, Stern alleged that Interim President James F. Jones Jr. has been assisting Board Chair Paul Rice in an effort to downplay the college’s $84 million endowment and dupe other board members into enriching Rice’s associates and Rice’s family foundation.

Standing atop the steps of the college conference center, Stern likened Jones and Rice to maniacal pilots, willing to kill a viable institution.

“You’ve got to replace the pilots,” said Stern. “Get rid of Jones and Rice.”

Stern said he plans to put his specific allegations into a report posted online in about a week. Efforts to reach Rice were unsuccessful, but college spokesperson Christy Jackson offered a response.

“Everett Stern’s scurrilous accusations are outrageous and irresponsible,” said Jackson.

Four years ago, Stern became one of the top whistleblowers in the U.S. government’s money-laundering case against banking behemoth HSBC. While HSBC fired and sued Stern, who’d been working in its compliance department, evidence showed that the bank transferred billions in Mexican drug money, terrorist financing and other tainted funds, and the firm agreed to pay a staggering $1.92 billion fine.

After a brief stint waiting tables, Stern founded Tactical Rabbit, a firm he likens to a private Central Intelligence Agency. For Sweet Briar, he said, his work is volunteer. He revealed that he dispatched emissaries to act as interested land-buyers to learn what Sweet Briar officials might be trying to do with the 3,250-acre property on the outskirts of Lynchburg. He also said he has a mole on the Sweet Briar board, a group of “good people” who, he claimed, have been fed false information by their leaders. “I’ve spent 10,000 dollars of my own money on this,” said Stern, downplaying any connection to the fact that he’s currently seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in his home state of Pennsylvania.

“I’m gonna be fighting for you until the day I die,” Stern told the crowd of about 60 people gathered at the college that has been educating women since 1901. “If this college goes down, then our freedoms are in jeopardy.”

Meanwhile, three lawsuits contesting the closing remain pending. And, in a “rolling discovery” agreement with the student plaintiffs, Sweet Briar must start producing documents May 15.

One person who will be closely watching the action is Teresa Pike Tomlinson, the mayor of Georgia’s second-largest city and a 1987 alumna who last month took the stand to testify against President Jones at an injunction hearing. Tomlinson revealed how Jones sent her a letter and an emissary to secure a million-dollar bequest less than a month before he announced the closure.

Perhaps Jones didn’t realize that this might upset her. Perhaps he forgot that he’d already announced that she would be the speaker at this year’s graduation, which is set for Saturday, May 16.