Probe launched to investigate allegations of a staff member taking a final exam for football player

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The University has hired a Birmingham law firm for yet another independent investigation inside Auburn Athletics ā€” this time to probe whether an academic mentor took an online final exam for a football player last year, according to an ESPN Outside the Lines report.

The University has hired Lightfoot, Franklin & White, a powerful Birmingham-based firm, to investigate the claims, a University official confirmed to The Plainsman. The firm was hired Aug. 31 for this investigation, and the allegations arose in the ESPN report Wednesday.

Neither the football player nor the accused mentor was identified in the report. The mentor is no longer on staff at the University, ESPN reported.

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, Iā€™m actively engaged as the investigation continues."

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.

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.

The tutor who reported the allegations was later told her job wouldn't be renewed, another source said. The tutor had reported the allegation to Auburn Athletics' compliance director and human resources.

Auburn Athletics has denied the report to ESPN, saying the tutor's allegations against the mentor were "not supported by facts" and "she keeps changing her story."

Athletics has not yet responded to a request for comment from The Plainsman.

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 ā€” mostly in legal expenses related to the athletics department, according to University public records.

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