Drunk With Power 

Former Maddox staffer says foundation head boozed it up on company time

Former Maddox staffer says foundation head boozed it up on company time

Already the target of a massive lawsuit, the Maddox Foundation now faces accusations from a former employee that the nonprofit squandered money on alcohol, trips to UT football games and charter flights, operating more like a fraternity on spring break than a charitable trust. One incident in particular stands out for its illuminating details. In a computer training seminar held at, of all places, a resort in Cancun, Mexico, foundation president Robin Costa and other staffers sipped on alcoholic beverages during breakfast. They drank throughout the day, at the bar during their breaks and in the class while they ostensibly learned about a new software program for their office.

"By the afternoon it was apparent they were intoxicated, and they were slurring their speech, they were acting silly, they weren't following their instructor," Tara Hermansen, a former bookkeeper for the foundation, testified in a deposition. The next day, she said, they were all hung over. The instructor, whom the foundation flew to Cancun, later expressed amazement at the staff's antics. "She said, 'Don't these people realize how much money they were out to bring me down here, put me in this nice resort, and now they're intoxicated during class?" the former employee testified.

On Monday, Circuit Court Judge Randy Kennedy will hold a hearing on whether to appoint a special master to take over the management of the foundation. In September, Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson filed a far-reaching lawsuit against the Maddox Foundation seeking to remove its president Robin Costa from any position of authority and to return it from Hernando, Miss., back to Nashville. The suit also claims that Costa squandered foundation assets on everything from ill-advised investments to unjustified perks. The Maddox Foundation is a spin off from the trust of Dan and Margaret Maddox, a wealthy Nashville couple who died in a boating accident in 1998. After their death, Costa, who had been an employee of the Maddox Companies, became the head of the foundation and soon relocated it to Mississippi.

Tara Hermansen, who worked at the foundation for three years, detailed a laundry list of inappropriate conduct by Robin Costa and corporate secretary Paul Morris. Alcohol was everywhere, consumed at staff functions and even casual encounters. "Sometimes drinks would be made for no reason at all," she said in her deposition. "Paul's name was Blender Boy. He would walk in the door and everybody would go, 'Blender Boy is here.' "

A graduate of Nashville School of Law, Paul Morris wrote on the foundation Web site that he's proud to raise his children in a Christian home. But Hermansen's deposition reveals another side of him. "And then there were times when, you know, there was no special occasion, Robin would just walk in the office and say, "Hey, Blender Boy, go fix us up,' and so he would."

Costa's attorney, Aubrey Harwell, says in his response that the district attorney's lawsuit against his client includes "overwrought" and "often baseless allegations." He also casts doubt on Hermansen's deposition, although he didn't comment specifically on her allegations.

"Much of what Tara Hermansen said was contrary to the truth and grossly exaggerated," he says. "I find her to be a witness totally lacking in credibility."

Still, in Costa's own affidavit, she acknowledges in part some of Hermansen's claims. In her deposition, the former employee says that Costa and Morris chartered a jet to fly to UT football games. The two were avid fans of the Big Orange.

"You know, Robin and Paul both would wear orange to the office, they would wear UT emblems, logos on their clothing," she testified. "Paul would be playing 'Rocky Top' on his CD player."

"And very rarely would I hear this was a business purpose, yet I know those expenses were charged to the foundation," she testified.

In an affidavit, Costa admitted that she chartered jets to UT football games, but she says while she was there she conducted business for the foundation, including visiting properties in Knoxville the foundation owns.

Costa's affidavit also details a list of charitable projects the foundation has bankrolled, including helping bring computers and Internet access to all public school classrooms in Mississippi. While Costa defends the foundation's trip to Cancun for a computer training seminar, she doesn't discuss whether she and her staff were intoxicated during class, as Hermansen's deposition maintains.

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