Tactical Rabbit is well known for its investigations into corporate wrongdoing. But sometimes its pursuit of justice leads it to unlikely places. Consider the case of tiny Sweet Briar College, the elite women’s college near Lynchburg, Virginia.
In 2015, Sweet Briar College grabbed national headlines when School President James F. Jones, Jr., made the sudden announcement that the prestigious liberal arts school would have to close for good that summer. It came as shocking and devastating news to hundreds of students, faculty and alumni. The school’s senior leaders and Board of Trustees attributed the imminent closing to “insurmountable financial challenges.”
Shortly after the announcement, a tipster contacted Tactical Rabbit Intelligence Director Everett Stern and shared suspicions about the candor of the school’s senior leaders. Stern immediately directed Tactical Rabbit’s intelligence operatives to closely examine the college’s finances. Sweet Briar had a substantial $84 million endowment and was experiencing only a small decline in student enrollment. On the surface, it was a mystery. How could a prestigious school with a loyal and active alumni population be abruptly shutting its doors? It didn’t take long for Stern and his investigators to realize that the numbers just didn’t add up.
Tactical Rabbit launched an in-depth intelligence operation and examined hundreds of school documents. What they found was disturbing. In a May 2015 letter to the FBI Director, Stern wrote, “The due diligence process yielded disturbing results indicating that [two senior school administrators worked together] with the intention of dissolving the college without advance good faith notification to the Sweet Briar community.”
Stern’s findings attracted the attention of numerous prominent media outlets. In an interview with NBC, he described the alleged motives of the two senior school administrators. The top officials “planned on this college being shut down, and knew while taking applications from students,” according to Stern. When Tactical Rabbit tried to locate accounting documents, they were nowhere to be found. Citing credible sources, Tactical Rabbit informed the FBI that “accounting documents are being manipulated and shredded.” The Roanoke Times wrote: “Stern said he will provide new information and solutions on how to keep Sweet Briar College open, and he plans to level accusations against its leaders.”
With the future of the school hanging in the balance, Stern was invited by students and alumnae to hold an on-campus press conference. “I’m going to be fighting for you until the day I die,” he said to applause. Students gathered at the press conference publicly revealed attempts by the school administration to intimidate and muzzle them. Stern replied that they were innocent victims of a fraudulent scheme, and he pledged to keep fighting for justice.
After his press conference, Stern sent a Tactical Rabbit investigative report to the FBI and to Virginia’s Attorney General. A month later, a Circuit Court Judge approved a financial agreement that enabled Sweet Briar to remain open.
Tactical Rabbit’s efforts to expose the alleged fraud committed by senior school officials undoubtedly helped seal their fates. Top school leaders were fired, and many Board members were forced to resign. More than three years later, Sweet Briar’s financial picture continues to improve. Student enrollment is up more than 40 percent, and the school is thriving. For Stern, the positive outcome is gratifying. “Whether it’s a billion-dollar bank or an ivy-league college, wrong is wrong. I am so happy to have played my small part in saving this amazing 118-year institution.”