Saturday, December 3, 2022

Prominent Higher-Ed Consultant Committed Financial Fraud, Lawsuit Says

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Brett A. Sokolow, one of the nation’s most visible higher-education consultants and the president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, is being sued by a former executive at his consulting firm over allegations of tax fraud, breach of contract, and retaliation.

Sokolow is the founder and chair of the board at TNG, a risk-management firm that manages eight other affiliates focused on education law and policy, including the Association of Title IX Administrators. TNG is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed on Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (TNG was formerly known as the Ncherm Group and before that as the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management.)

Colleges hire TNG consultants to conduct policy reviews and training, and to serve as external investigators and expert witnesses — particularly in the realm of Title IX and sexual-assault allegations. The Association of Title IX Administrators, known as Atixa, casts itself as the membership association for college administrators who work in sexual-assault prevention and response, and provides the training that many Title IX officials go through.

The plaintiff in the new lawsuit, Martha E.M. Kopacz, was TNG’s chief executive officer until last month. The lawsuit states that TNG fired Kopacz in September, after she had reported and objected to several instances of wrongdoing. Under Pennsylvania law, the complaint maintains, Kopacz qualifies as a whistle-blower because she reported financial wrongdoing and TNG receives public funding.

Kopacz alleges that Sokolow commited “ghost billing fraud.” According to her complaint, TNG charged clients Sokolow’s consulting rate of $700 an hour for expert-witness work when other consultants, whose hourly rates ranged from $250 to $350, were the ones working on the cases. Kopacz states that she “objected to this fraud and even threatened to resign” unless the practice was discontinued.

The lawsuit alleges that Sokolow recorded $3 million of income as a business loan to avoid paying taxes. Kopacz states in the complaint that she reported this to Sokolow but that he refused to properly categorize the $3 million and “would not listen.”

Kopacz also alleges that Sokolow used company money to pay for personal expenses, including hundreds of thousands of dollars for “improvements for the Berwyn house,” described in the complaint as a personal property owned by Sokolow “or some entity he controlled.”

The complaint further asserts that Sokolow labeled a range of other personal expenses as business expenses, including a country-club membership, DoorDash meals for his family, and cars for himself and his wife. Kopacz states in the lawsuit that she tried to “put an end to the taking of fraudulent expenses” but that she was unsuccessful.

In April 2022, the lawsuit states, Sokolow wrote a $40,000 check from TNG to help pay for a Lamborghini for his personal use.

In an email to The Chronicle, Sokolow wrote that TNG could provide only limited comments on active litigation. “The allegations in this suit are without merit,” the email said. “TNG denies them categorically and looks forward to the truth coming out in the proceedings.” The statement also said that Kopacz was terminated “for cause” last month and that TNG is now “run by a management committee chaired by Brett A. Sokolow.”

Kopacz is seeking monetary damages as well as back pay, front pay, lawyer fees, litigation costs, and a declaration that the actions of Sokolow and TNG violated Pennsylvania’s whistle-blower law.

Kopacz and her lawyer declined to comment.

Over the past two decades, Sokolow has built a career advising colleges on how to respond to sexual misconduct and other campus-safety and risk issues. He is widely quoted as a higher-ed expert by news organizations, including The Chronicle.

In 2017, Sokolow told The Chronicle that, on average, colleges paid about $35,000 per year for TNG’s Title IX services. The Association of Title IX Administrators, managed by TNG, has about 9,900 active members. The organization offers 31 training and certification courses, and its yearly membership fees are $600 for individuals and $2,500 for institutions.

Amid his success and exponential growth in popularity as a consultant, Sokolow has also been criticized for potentially unethical practices, including reaching out directly to sexual-assault victims to promote his services. In a 2014 BuzzFeed News story, a student said she had watched Sokolow “profit from sexual violence.” Some campus officials have defended Sokolow and other Title IX consultants, saying they have been important partners in reforming institutional policies and ensuring compliance with Title IX.



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