Auburn Athletics: Student in alleged academic fraud investigation was not an active player at time of allegation; no reason to believe allegation is true

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The student involved in an allegation of academic fraud reported Wednesday by ESPN is no longer on the Auburn football team and was not on the team at the time of the allegation, Auburn Athletics said Wednesday.

"He is a former player who came back to school to complete his degree," Auburn Athletics said in a statement. "As you know from our statement, he categorically denies the claim."

The University has hired the Birmingham law firm Lightfoot, Franklin & White to probe these allegations that an academic mentor took an online final exam for a football player last year. The allegations were first published by ESPN.

ESPN reported a source informed Outside the Lines that a staff mentor in the University's Student-Athlete Support Services took the final exam for the football player, who ESPN reported was a member of the 2016 football team.

ESPN later edited their story to say the player was a member of the 2015 team, not the 2016 team as originally reported.

Another tutor who was reviewing the student athlete's academic records noticed the player had a perfect grade on the final exam even when the player had told the tutor that he had not taken the exam, ESPN's source said.

Auburn Athletics said the tutor who is making the accusation in ESPN's story was a part-time employee placed on administrative leave in late August, and her story is false.

The report did not name the student, the tutor or the mentor allegedly involved.

"The allegation made in the ESPN story is false based on our review to date," the Athletics statement went on to say. "She is making claims not supported by facts, and based on what ESPN told us this morning, before the story came out, she keeps changing her story. Neither she, her attorney, nor our investigation have produced anything to support her claims. Neither has ESPN."

The spokesperson said the accuser signed 38 bimonthly time sheets and compliance forms during her part-time employment, which stated that she had no knowledge of and has not witnessed or assisted in a student-athlete participating in academic dishonesty.

"We have no reason to think the allegation about the former student is true," the statement said.

Auburn President Steven Leath issued a statement to The Plainsman Wednesday.

"I take the allegation very seriously," he said. "While the independent investigation has found no evidence to date to support the claims, I’m actively engaged as the investigation continues."

Lightfoot, Franklin & White has been a longtime go-to firm for the University and the athletics program.

The University earlier this fall chose the same firm to conduct an internal investigation into the women's softball program after allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced and to conduct a probe into the basketball program after associate head coach Chuck Person was charged by federal prosecutors with bribery.

Since October 2009, Auburn has paid Lightfoot, Franklin & White more than $2.3 million — mostly in legal expenses related to the athletics department, according to University public records.

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