What Was UCLA Doing With Alan Robbins?

what was UCLA doing with Alan Robbins?

College athletics and unsavory boosters have been tied together for decades. Some financial benefactors run legitimate businesses and are otherwise foundations of the community.  Yet they see fit to break NCAA rules when it comes to their relationship with the school and its athletes. Those are a constant potential headache for athletic directors and coaches alike. Then there are the self-inflicted wounds that come with taking money from someone with a nefarious past. Such is the case in Westwood, CA, and leads us to ask what was UCLA doing with Alan Robbins?

What Was UCLA Doing With Alan Robbins?

The former California state senator has had a financial relationship with UCLA going back to 1975, according to records provided to Last Word on College Football by the university. But the financial ties go all the way to 2018. This includes his time as a felon who served nearly two years in the Lompoc Federal Prison in the early 1990’s. The school openly had its hand out to receive the donations from Robbins, whose term as a California state senator ended with a guilty plea to numerous federal charges, all involving money.

Most schools have some dubious characters in their history, particularly when it comes to donations and fundraising. For UCLA, all you have to do to find one is go to the original plaque attached to Pauley Pavilion. The person in charge of the fundraising for the basketball arena that opened in 1965 was H.R. “Bob” Haldeman. To be fair, his role with UCLA was a full seven years before he was outed by the Washington Post as a co-conspirator in Watergate. And it was another year after that before the UCLA alum was convicted for his role in the Nixon scandal.

Was Anyone Asking Questions?

In this case, UCLA athletic directors Peter Dalis and Dan Guerrero were taking donations from someone who had a felony record while he was giving the money. And since the arrest was headline grabbing when it happened, they were not in the dark about Robbins or his money.

According to the UCLA records provided to Last Word over three days, Robbins’ last donation of any kind to UCLA was in 2018, two years before Guerrero retired and current athletic director Martin Jarmond took over. UCLA athletic department spokesperson Scott Markley did not provide a reason for the cause of cessation in the donations.

From Prodigy Alum To Taking Bribes

Robbins is a UCLA alum. His self-posted resume says he graduated with his B.A. in Political Science, (with honors), in 1963. He then went on to get his law degree from UCLA in 1966. His resume boasts that he completed his undergraduate degree and law school in five years and nine months.  He spent the next 17 years earning millions in real estate/law in Los Angeles.

While keeping his real estate business active, Robbins was also elected to the California State Senate in 1974. He was seen as an up and comer in the state’s Democrat party with ambition and private business success.

what was UCLA doing with Alan Robbins?
Then-State Senator Alan Robbins outside the federal courthouse in Sacramento in 1991 prior to his sentencing on racketeering, bribery, and tax evasion charges. Photo courtesy Sal Veder/AP.

The FBI opened an undercover operation into Robbins and other state legislators from 1986 to 1988  The Bribery and Special Interest (BRISPEC) sting operation was dubbed Shrimpscam. Dummy companies were set up by the FBI, some proclaiming to be in the shrimping and fishing industry. The fake companies, run by the FBI, would offer cash to the lawmakers in return for their support of legislation that would benefit their companies. A couple of the bills were actually passed in the legislature. They were ultimately vetoed by then-governor George Deukmejian who was aware of the sting operation. The investigation netted a dozen public officials total, representing both parties, including Robbins. One of them, Pat Nolan, received a presidential pardon in 2020.

In 1991, Robbins pleaded guilty to charges of extortion, taking bribes, racketeering, and income tax evasion. He was sentenced to five years in prison. But that was cut by about 50% as he cooperated with testimony against others caught in the investigation. With time off for good behavior, Robbins was released from Lompoc in early 1994. He served a total of about 18 months, but now owning a felony record.

A Complicated Web

Robbins had already been a donor to UCLA athletics going back to 1975. After prison, he returned to giving money to his alma mater. Markley told us the donations were to different departments over the years. It seems clear, however, that most of the approximately $750,000 given to UCLA over the years was athletics-related, or athletics-adjacent at the very least. That dollar total is confirmed by UCLA.

A common earmark of Robbins’ donations over the years was the UCLA spirit squad. As reported by the LA Times last week, Robbins is at the center of a very complex Title IX lawsuit involving the spirit squad. Former spirit squad director Mollie Vehling is suing the school, and more specifically the Title IX compliance office. In 2018 members of the spirit squad joined Robbins in Las Vegas for a stage show of questionable content. The members of the spirit squad were in town for a UCLA basketball weekend. They were uncomfortable with the content of the stage show and left. Robbins, to the LA Times, reported that he also left.

From there, it becomes a complex web of who reported what to the Title IX office; the spirit squad members or Vehling. She was eventually fired for how she handled the situation after 19 years on the job. She is currently suing the school and the Title IX department.

Limitations Imposed

Robbins is not accused of any wrongdoing specific to Vehling’s firing. However, his role in hosting college co-eds from the spirit squad raised questions as to the propriety of his relationship with UCLA. Markley made it clear that, “A number of restrictions have been placed on Alan Robbins to limit his contact with the Spirit Squad through June of 2022. Under these restrictions, he cannot use seats at football or basketball games that put him in close proximity to Spirit Squad members. He also cannot attend receptions or other events where the Spirit Squad will be present and is prohibited from interacting with its members while they are enrolled at UCLA.”

That timing coincides with the last donation made by Robbins to the school in any capacity. Neither side confirmed the timing to be anything more than a coincidence. Last Word called Robbins’ office twice in the last 4 days to allow him to address his financial gifts to the school in light of his past. We were told both times that he would call us back that day. He has yet to return the call. His resume says he has made millions in the real estate development business since his incarceration.

Money Equals Access

Markley confirmed that Robbins is no longer a donor to the Wooden Athletic Fund or any athletic department. The question remains, though. Why was he ever a donor, once he was a sentenced felon? No school could possibly be expected to vet the background of every donor. Thousands commit money ranging from a few hundred dollars a year to millions over time. Robbins’ donation totals are middle of the road, comparatively speaking. So why was he given access to all of the elite-level donor engagements like private parties and high-level trips? Vehling, to The Times, confirmed that Robbins was always welcomed around the major donor events. Since he was a known felon, it is fair to ask why. Why were UCLA standards so malleable in exchange for cash?

Just as importantly, would they be again? The athletic department is in the midst of debt in the range of $40 million. Would hundreds of thousands spread out over years from a donor with a felony history still pass the smell test as it obviously did before? Many assume politicians have an inherently narcissistic dirty side when it comes to the rules. But Robbins and his political ambitions were literally for sale. And UCLA was taking money, not from someone with just a checkered past; but with a felony record explicitly tied to his finances.

 

*Revised to reflect correct name of UCLA representative as Scott Markley….our apologies to him. 

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