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Game leaves employee loser, ethics winner as Super Bowl fantasy fades

by Deborah Rieselman

In two short months, April Mack's luck soared from mundane to the best imaginable, then plummeted to the worst. Surprisingly, ethics were to blame.

During the winter holidays, the program coordinator for Raymond Walters Professional Development Center received the phone call football fans only dream of. She had won a trip for four to the Super Bowl, including tickets to the game, an NFL tailgate party and an "exclusive NFL-sponsored party," as well as air fare, two Hilton hotel rooms for five days and $7,000 cash. The package was even sweeter because her sister-in-law lived in Jacksonville, Fla., where the game was being held, and her whole family, even their daughter, loved football.

While her husband, Anthony, was bouncing off the walls, April proceeded with a potentially painful task. She dialed her supervisor at home.

She hated to admit it, but she had an uneasy feeling. The trip was Visa's grand prize for a transaction April had made ... using a university purchasing card for university business. She recalled UC ethics training that had explained she could not accept gifts of any value on behalf of university-conducted business.

Several more phone calls confirmed her fear. The trip, worth nearly $24,000, was within her grasp, yet not to be hers. She called the contest promoter and declined on behalf of the university.

Tom Guerin, associate vice president and director of purchasing, says he felt like the "university ogre" in telling her that she had to refuse the prize, but says she took it quite well.

"The rules are difficult," he says, "but we are in public service, so you have to take your lumps. The Ohio Ethics Commission tells us how to operate as a public trust. We believe it's inappropriate to accept anything of value from a current supplier."

But he also believed it was inappropriate to leave her empty-handed. "We're not a bunch of heartless bureaucrats," he says quite seriously. So Human Resources and the Foundation arranged for a consolation prize.

Its value certainly came nowhere near to what she lost, but it was an impressive offer: tickets to the Feb. 24 Marquette basketball game in the president's box and an overnight stay in the presidential suite of the Kingsgate Conference Center located on campus. That's when April's luck went from bad to worse. A close family member tragically died, and the family had to forfeit the tickets to attend the funeral.

Several months later, April isn't bitter. She can actually chuckle about it. But she does feel bad for the rest of the family. "It was a family dream," she says, "especially for Anthony."

No one tries to get him to chuckle.

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