TAMPA BAY, Florida - The man at the center of a 2013 academics scandal at Florida State, just exposed Friday by the New York Times, is the same hospitality professor exposed by WTSP in April as passing himself off an economist while he conducted dozens of economic impact studies for parties seeking tax dollars for sports-related projects, including Major League Baseball teams.
The Times reports Dr. Mark Bonn allegedly pressured a doctoral student to give football players, including Tampa native James Wilder Jr., preferential treatment in online hospitality courses on coffee, tea and wine. Other student-athletes allegedly "handed in plagiarized work and disregarded assignments and quizzes."
Florida State issued a statement Friday explaining it did not report the allegations previously because an independent investigation found no NCAA violations. But Bonn's course "was subsequently modified for other reasons."
In April, 10Investigates exposed how Prof. Bonn appears to have made hundreds of thousands of dollars on the side crafting inflated economic impact studies to help pro teams and leagues justify public tax subsidies for new stadium projects.
When the story grabbed national headlines, Bonn told The Toronto Star, "(The reporter) can go jump in a lake, as far as I’m concerned.”
The Times also reported Wilder emailed Professor Bonn at the end of one summer semester to suggest he needed a "B" to "keep myself in good academic place with the school.” Bonn reportedly instructed the doctoral student, Christina Suggs, to work with the “starting star running back" and provide him a chance to make up missing work, even though it had already been graded.
But Suggs objected to special treatment, reportedly telling a colleague, “I am not offering this opportunity to other students.” The Times writes that "the colleague agreed, summing up their mutual concern about Professor Bonn: 'Trying to put a stop to his favoritism for athletes once and for all.'"
Bonn stopped responding to 10Investigates' questions in April; he did not respond to the newest allegations on Friday, either.