Monday, May 22, 2017


In 2001 HBO produced a great docu-drama entitled Conspiracy.  It detailed the infamous Wannsee Conference, where Nazi leaders and bureaucrats met to hammer out how they would efficiently exterminate Jews from Europe.  It was well researched, written and acted--and it won several awards.  If a local filmmaker is looking for a new project, might I suggest documenting the meeting where UW Oshkosh leaders hatched their plan to defraud the UW system, local banks and donors?

We don't know all of the intricate details about that meeting yet.  The lawsuit filed by the UW System against former Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Tom Sonnleitner only detail the financial aspects of the scandal--but you know there had to be a meeting that set in motion the inappropriate borrowing for a number of projects--most notably the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center and the 2 biodigesters for which the System and taxpayers are now on the hook.

I'd bet that Chancellor Wells started off the meeting talking about "legacy" and doing things that are "for the good of the campus".  Foundation President Art Rathjen was probably very optimistic about being able to raise how ever much money Wells needed for his pet projects--but noted that the banks likely wouldn't share his optimism.  That's when Wells and Sonnleitner likely agreed to sign letters of understanding that the school would cover any loan payments the Foundation couldn't meet because "what is the likelihood of that ever happening? HA HA HA HA HA HA!!"

Actually, there may need to be another meeting detailed in our little local docu-drama--the one where Rathjen comes back a few years later and has to admit that he never came close to raising the money promised for the projects--and now the school somehow has to pony up the cash to keep the Foundation from defaulting.  This is probably where our film takes a dark turn as the parties involved look for ways to not only scrounge up the money (although audits show that isn't too hard to do in UW budgets) and then conceal those payments in a way that no one would discover.  Somehow they managed to do just that--to the tune of $11-MILLION.

But then our little conspiracy begins to fall apart.  Wells--perhaps sensing the house of cards was about to collapse--retires and leaves for Florida and a new Chancellor--not privy to the conspiracy already in place--comes in.  The Foundation fails to bring in the cash to cover the loans again, and we have a third meeting to add to our film (and the one that I would have loved to be in on the most)--where Rathjen goes to Chancellor Andrew Leavitt and tells him "I need to tell you about a little arrangement that we had in place before you got here".  It's too bad Danny Thomas is dead because he could make a cameo as Chancellor Leavitt doing his famous "spit take".

Hopefully the UW System lawsuit will go to trial so that everyone involved has to testify and provide us with all of the backroom details--from there we can add some dramatic lines of dialogue and get ready to begin shooting our movie.  Maybe we can book the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center for its big premier.

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