The institution slated to provide the educational content for veterans studying with the U.S. Veterans Educational Institute has withdrawn from its USVEI partnership.
Clarion University, which was celebrated as USVEI's college partner at a grand news conference early this year, on Monday sent an email to the Mirror attributed to Provost Ronald Nowaczyk stating: "We have decided to end discussions which would have led to a formal agreement."
Clarion declined to explain why, although recent revelations could have undermined the college's confidence in the enterprise.
USVEI Chairman Dennis Butts had no comment, but said he "absolutely" plans to continue working to develop USVEI.
A few weeks ago, USVEI lost its option on the former hospital property where Clarion was initially to provide the education.
On Friday, a news story revealed that several USVEI officials and the contracting firm that was to run the USVEI technology lab - and which included two board members - had cut ties with the firm, because they hadn't gotten paid.
On Saturday, a news story revealed that Butts had settled with the state of Virginia a few years ago by admitting to a securities violation and agreeing not to engage in registered securities business in that state.
Butts declined to say whether he'd seek a partnership with another college, but said that at this point, the withdrawal of Clarion "has nothing to do with anything."
In its statement Monday, Clarion said it remains "committed to helping military students and veterans achieve their educational goals" and supports USVEI's goal of providing "an environment for veteran education."
Contacted by the Mirror on Monday, another contractor said USVEI hasn't been meeting its obligations.
"A number of invoices are overdue," and Butts hasn't been responsive to most inquiries about them, said architect Richard Fanelli, a principal of Fanelli McClain, Fairfax, Va., whose extensive plans for the interior of the Bon Secours main building were posted all around an otherwise empty side-conference room at the news event in January.
The couple of times Butts has responded, he's made promises, then failed to deliver, Fanelli said.
"I don't want to think the worst," Fanelli said. "[But] it sounds like his house of cards is falling down."
Fanelli had doubts when he first considered working with USVEI last summer - "a gut feeling this guy
doesn't have a business plan," he said.
Still, Fanelli considers himself "a pretty good judge of character," and he went with the program.
"I got the wool pulled over my eyes, as did a lot of people," he said.
He doesn't know whether Butts' "failed enterprise is due to naivete on his part, or something darker," he said.
Asked Monday evening about Fanelli's remarks, Butts said, "I have no comment on these simple-minded statements."
Meanwhile, Fanelli is working with his lawyer to obtain what's due his firm.
The issue has created a cash-flow problem, although it's not serious enough to endanger the firm, Fanelli said.
Others have more to lose, he said.
"A lot of people put a lot on the line in his enterprise, because they believed in it," Fanelli said. "Someone like this can ruin lives."
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.