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Athletic Director’s relative played key role in Wintrust agreements

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The Chief Marketing Officer from Wintrust Bank has confirmed that Wintrust Executive Vice President and sister-in-law of DePaul Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, Kandace Lenti, was involved in the multi-million dollar Wintrust Arena naming rights agreement. DePaul officials have also confirmed that Jean Lenti Ponsetto never officially disclosed a conflict of interest form before engaging in the deal.

The 2017 Wintrust Arena agreement was touted by DePaul as a huge win for the university and Athletic Director Lenti Ponsetto. But there seems to be some family ties concerning Wintrust and Lenti Ponsetto that raise questions of nepotism and a potential conflict of interest.

Kandace Lenti is the Executive Vice President at Wintrust Bank. She was named by Crain’s as one of the 30 most influential women in Chicago banking and is credited on Crain’s website for helping to secure DePaul as a client.

Lenti is married to DePaul’s head softball coach, Eugene Lenti — also the brother of Lenti Ponsetto.

Although the details of the Wintrust agreement are confidential, it is estimated by Legends Sales and Marketing, a New York-based sponsorship consulting firm, that the naming rights deal could have been worth at least $22 million for DePaul. At around the same time, DePaul added Wintrust Bank as its exclusive on-campus banking institution to replace PNC Bank. Both the naming rights and banking agreement are potentially worth millions for both parties.

Under the agreement, Wintrust Bank is able to distribute and market to all of DePaul’s students, faculty, staff and alumni. Wintrust also received exclusive banking and ATM privileges on campus. With a total enrollment of over 22,000 students and a sizable alumni and faculty network, Wintrust gained access to a considerable number of potential new clients.

DePaul has a conflict of interest policy clearly outlined in its code of conduct that states, “DePaul requires all employees whose independence of judgment may be impaired by a potential conflict of interest to either refrain from the conflict or disclose the conflict to a supervisor.”

The conduct policy goes on to say, “In these and other situations, a completed Certificate of Compliance with Conflict of Interest Policy form (…) is to be completed and approved by the direct supervisor of the employee.”

But Lenti Ponsetto never disclosed a conflict of interest form, according to the university. 

When The DePaulia began investigating the connection between Lenti Ponsetto and Lenti, things got even murkier.

In order to best report this story, The Editorial Board decided to report our process and what it yielded.

Kandace Lenti’s connection

The DePaulia first approached Kandace Lenti on Tuesday, March 6. After identifying ourselves as reporters, Lenti said she was about to head into a meeting and directed The DePaulia to set up an appointment via email. She hung up the phone before The DePaulia could ask her any questions.

Kandace Lenti (left) of Wintrust Bank with her husband, head softball coach, Eugene.
Photo courtesy of Facebook

The DePaulia emailed Lenti minutes later, requesting an interview regarding the “Wintrust naming rights deal.”

“I don’t believe I would be the right person to talk to about that agreement at Wintrust,” Lenti wrote in an email. “I was not in the trenches of that agreement.”

The DePaulia then asked Lenti, again, to comment on her role in the Wintrust naming rights deal.

A day later, on Wednesday, March 7, at 2:39 p.m., The DePaulia received an email from Matt Doubleday, Chief Marketing Officer at Wintrust. Doubleday said that he would be “happy to answer” any questions The DePaulia had.

The DePaulia, instead, requested that Lenti respond to our questions herself and asked a third time.

On Friday, March 9, The DePaulia received a response from Doubleday. In his response, he said that Lenti is a “banker and the leader of Wintrust’s Government, non-profit & healthcare bank group.” He said that “(Lenti) counts DePaul University as one of her customers. If you have questions about banking, she’s a great person to know.”

Doubleday went on to say that he was the person to ask about “marketing, advertising and sponsorships,” and that he was the appropriate person to answer The DePaulia’s questions.

The DePaulia asked Doubleday, “Specifically, to what degree Kandace Lenti was involved in the naming rights deal for Wintrust Arena?”

Doubleday responded to The DePaulia the same day and did not refute that Lenti was involved in the negotiations. He said that Lenti’s “involvement on the Wintrust Arena naming rights was minimal.”

But Doubleday also said that “(Lenti) made introductions between DePaul and Wintrust leadership and attended most of the meetings we had.”

Doubleday also confirmed that Lenti was, in fact, the banker assigned to DePaul. Indeed, Lenti’s name appears on the banking agreement between DePaul and Wintrust, according to the agreement posted on DePaul’s website.

In the agreement, it states that “all notices” between the university and Wintrust should be sent to “ATTN: Kandace Lenti.” Lenti’s name appears twice in the agreement.

Jean Lenti Ponsetto’s connection

The DePaulia began the investigation into Lenti Ponsetto’s connection, by reaching out to a source who was involved in the day-to-day dealings concerning the Wintrust Arena naming rights deal. Due to reasons concerning their employment, the source wished to remain anonymous.

Wintrust Bank has five ATM’s throughout DePaul’s campus and access to the student body.
Jonathen Ballew | The DePaulia

The source said that Lenti Ponsetto was “involved in the process” and that she had a hand with “price points and deliverables.”

“Whatever is in the contract,” they said, “she was involved.”

On Wednesday, March 7, The DePaulia reached out to Greg Greenwell, Associate Athletic Director for Communications, asking if The DePaulia’s sports editor could ask Lenti Ponsetto “a couple of questions” after the DePaul Men’s Basketball game on Wednesday in New York City.

Greenwell responded by inquiring what questions The DePaulia wanted to ask Lenti Ponsetto. The DePaulia let Greenwell know we planned to ask about the Wintrust naming rights agreement.

After the game, Greenwell told The DePaulia that it was “not a good time” to speak with Lenti Ponsetto and that we could email him instead. Lenti Ponsetto did, however, have time to speak to the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday before the game.

The DePaulia emailed our questions to Greenwell but never received a response. Instead, we received a response from DePaul’s public relations department.

On Thursday, March 8, the DePaulia received an email response from Carol Hughes, of DePaul’s Office of Public Relations and Communications and one of DePaul’s top public relations officers, responding to The DePaulia on behalf of Lenti Ponsetto.

“The naming rights transaction was negotiated under the direction of the Board of Trustees by Jeff Bethke with the support of an external sports marketing firm who helped identify and recruit potential naming rights prospects,” Hughes wrote.

“DePaul Athletics assisted in providing corporate sponsorship and marketing elements and community outreach initiatives.”

On Friday, March 9, The DePaulia reached out again to Hughes asking, “Specifically, to what degree Jean Lenti Ponsetto was involved in the naming rights deal for Wintrust Arena.”

Hughes responded the same afternoon, saying, “We addressed that question in the previous response.”

Who is Jeff Bethke?

Jeff Bethke is the Executive Vice President at DePaul and was instrumental in the Wintrust agreement, according to Hughes and multiple other sources. The DePaulia reached out to Bethke’s office on Tuesday, March 6, and was told by a secretary that he was out of the office until Monday.

On the same day, The DePaulia emailed Bethke asking for Lenti Ponsetto’s role in the Wintrust naming rights agreement.

Bethke never responded, and on Thursday, March 8, Hughes contacted The DePaulia on behalf of Bethke.

In the past, Bethke has been very open and forthcoming with The DePaulia concerning the Wintrust agreement, talking to multiple DePaulia reporters.

Kandace Lenti’s name can be found twice on DePaul’s banking agreement with Wintrust.

Conclusion

At the conclusion of our reporting, The DePaulia asked Hughes a final question, on Friday, March 9 at 3:28 p.m.

“Did Jean Lenti Ponsetto at any point in time submit a conflict of interest form to her direct supervisor regarding her relationship with Kandace Lenti?” The DePaulia also requested that Hughes disclose the form if it existed.

On Friday, at 8:19 p.m., Hughes responded to The DePaulia with the following comment:

“(Lenti Ponsetto) was not required to complete a conflict of interest form.”

The DePaulia’s anonymous source said that while the lucrative banking and naming rights deals are not directly connected, they represent “a significant sponsorship relationship.”

The source said that “many different industries” other than Wintrust were approached by DePaul as possible partners. He said companies in the financial, auto, telecommunications and insurance industries were approached — these are the industries that typically sponsor major sporting venues.

Ultimately, Wintrust Arena was selected as the best sponsor and entered into a 15-year deal with DePaul.

“Our goal when this process started was to find a Chicago-based partner that holds similar beliefs and values to DePaul University,” Lenti Ponsetto told DePaul Newsline, DePaul’s public relations newswire service, in November, 2016. “And we feel we’ve accomplished that goal with Wintrust Arena.”

With family connections between Wintrust and the DePaul athletic department, it’s easy to see how the two could be a perfect fit.

29 Comments

29 Responses to “Athletic Director’s relative played key role in Wintrust agreements”

  1. Doug Klain on March 12th, 2018 12:50 pm

    Great reporting here. Maybe JLP wasn’t trying to do something wrong and didn’t think she needed to submit a conflict of interest form, maybe the administration just wasn’t aware of the family connections, and maybe people at DePaul intentionally hid these things. Regardless, it’s hard to argue that someone in the DePaul Administration didn’t do something wrong here.

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  2. Mediocrity on March 12th, 2018 3:51 pm

    I see it’s business as usual at DePaul Athletics. Cronyism at it’s finest. This is just one of hundreds of other reasons why Jean Lenti Ponsetto and her associated friends and family should be removed immediately.

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  3. Jeanette Ruby on March 12th, 2018 4:52 pm

    Wintrust Bank is a true Chicago benefactor, supporting countless small, medium, large and jumbo (DePaul-sized) organizations throughout all of Chicago. Take a hard look and you’ll see Wintrust Bank supporting all Chicago Sports teams, numerous museums, theaters, art groups, parks, social service and nonprofit groups, far and wide throughout the city and Illinois. Wintrust Bank is homegrown, and its founder and leadership have roots in Chicago. Before you draw negative attention to this naming sponsorship, explore the millions in support across the entire city from Wintrust. Someone has to make the introduction, someone has to steward the relationship and communication, some one has to map out the complex elements of the sponsorship. An enormous amount of work goes into a naming sponsorship. Let’s not disparage a philanthropic banking institution until the facts are clearer.

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    sanford sklansky Reply:

    I am just kind of hearing about this. While Wintrust may support all those things. This may even be the best deal for Depaul. But everyone involved is being quite secretive. Dan Bernstein was interviewing one of the reporters. I came in midway. As the reporter said Depaul is a private institute, so they really don’t have to tell any one anything about their business. Bernstein mentioned the donors might care. But I am not sure why they would.

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    JingGuai Reply:

    Exactly, and lets not forget, Depaul doesnt pay property taxes!

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  4. Daniel Boone on March 12th, 2018 5:17 pm

    This is Sponsorship 101. These business-to-business deals happen all the time. This isn’t a conflict of interest at all – this is good business. Who cares how the deal was done? When the JV squad of the DePaulia figures that out, this will be old news.

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  5. Mike Maszka on March 12th, 2018 5:37 pm

    Great article fellas. Keep up the pressure!! She needs to go.

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  6. Aaron Janovsky on March 12th, 2018 5:47 pm

    Now it’s becoming clear why JLP has been allowed to keep her job. She’s bringing in money. Smh I wonder if there were any other conflict of interest forms omitted in past transactions? Sometimes where there’s smoke there’s an athletic director who needs to be removed

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  7. Susan Labovic on March 12th, 2018 6:02 pm

    It was an interesting read and very clearly outlined by the DePaulia staff . . . However, I’m still not buying that there was a conflict of interest. I don’t really find this a big news flash that indicates either Kandace Lenti nor Jean Lenti Ponsetto did anything wrong. It seems like a good match for both the university and the Chicago-based company – but seems unfortunate that so many want to twist it into something inappropriate. I am disgusted that anyone would even suggest that either one of these women would do anything less than professional and moral. Everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinions- I’d just like to say that I can back mine up with over 30 years of knowing Kandace and JLP both on a professional and personal level.

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    Max Strus Reply:

    Of course you’d defend your two friends. Another conflict of interest and nepotism! Classic JLP.

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    Susan Labovic Reply:

    Just shows how little you really know and understand about the big picture. Interesting how that’s the name you chose to write your comments under vs your real name 😕

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    Mediocrity Reply:

    The “friends and family” nepotism runs deep at DePaul and has led to mediocrity and a lack of accountability. DePaul Athletics doesn’t exist without the men’s basketball program. Her leadership of that program has been an absolute disaster. DePaul would need to go undefeated for 7 years in a row just to get to a .500 record under JLP. Lenti Ponsetto has been a complete failure and while the nepotism in place will keep her employment secure, she should at least have some dignity and step down to another position and allow a competent person to lead as director.

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  8. Mike Potter on March 12th, 2018 6:09 pm

    I commend DePaulia for writing an article and basically sticking to the facts, good job. Major media could learn a lesson, you didn’t flat out accuse, you raised a fair question. I assure you this deal happened over the heads of both Kandace Lenti and JLP. As you investigate, I think you will find there is a 0% chance Kandace Lenti is the person at the bank who signed off on this sponsorship at WinTrust Arena. As others noted, WinTrust bills itself as Chicago’s bank, and they sponsor stuff in Chicago. Probably required WinTrust board approval. Kandace likely introduced them, that’s her job. JLP probably took the meeting with a potential sponsor on behalf of DePaul, that’s her job. JLP may have recommended WinTrust, as with any other material naming right. But there is a 0% chance JLP approved this decision herself. DePaul’s Trustee’s most certainly would have approved a deal as large and high profile as this. As an officer of the bank, Kandace is not going to comment to media on something like that, she signs a series of agreements annually specifically saying she won’t do that. From my perspective, most everything at DePaul is doing well. Other than Men’s Basketball, which unfortunately, has the highest profile by far.

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    Susan Labovic Reply:

    Well said

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    Mediocrity Reply:

    Unfortunately, no other sports generates income except for Men’s Basketball. So your statement is the equivalent of saying that “everything else is doing well at Ford…… other than the sales of their vehicles.”

    This Wintrust deal is not a big deal for me. Given the Lenti Ponsetto cronyism, I would have been surprised if there was zero connection. Now THAT would have been a story! Zero nepotism and cronyism involved with Wintrust deal!! WOW!!! 😀

    Wintrust deal aside, JLP should be fired for the disastrous decisions she has made with the men’s basketball program.

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  9. janet knipper on March 12th, 2018 6:56 pm

    I find it interesting that this article appears now after a group of alumni, who are mad at the men’s basketball team, start to call for J Lenti to step down. Does the failure of the team really fall on Jean? Does our pride in the university fall on the men’s team only? Look at the success of the other sports programs and the success of those student athletes academically. Jean has a lot to do with that, too. Yes, her family abounds but they have all done great jobs and are highly supportive of DePaul. Jean has spent her whole life at DePaul and has worked hard, received many awards, made her own significant donations in time and money.
    She deserves better. I personally applaud her efforts.

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    Susan Labovic Reply:

    Agreed!

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    Mediocrity Reply:

    “Does the failure of the team really fall on Jean?” Yes! The failure falls on Jean Lenti Ponsetto and the President(s) who have failed to fire her. JLP is the only constant over the years. Different players. Different coaches. Different arena. Different conferences. But same AD. And same horrendous results under her tenure. Her $1M/year contract offer to Dave Leitao is itself a reason she should be dismissed. And this came after an even more disastrous $2M/year Oliver Purnell hiring.

    I’m sure the friends and family cronyism at DePaul can find JLP another job where she will be paid almost the same. But PLEASE keep her away from the men’s basketball program. She should have been fired years ago.

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    Vinny Reply:

    What do you know? DePaul womens basketball alum Janet Knipper commenting. The amount of JLP cronies out there never ceases to amaze me.

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  10. Evelyn johnson on March 12th, 2018 11:28 pm

    The BEST thing for DPU student body is the alum connections. I was happy to show my gratitude to DPU for offering me the first female athletic scholarship. I showed it by providing internship opportunities to only DPU students, not UIC, NU, or UofC students. I showed it by mentoring students interested in a marketing/advertising career. I show it by helping alum when they need media expertise. I believe my 35 years of experience should be used first with the university that helped me get where I am today. This is not nepotism and neither was Kandace Lenti’s. Alum are good business partners and great connections for everyone at DePaul University. You’d be foolish not to use them.

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    Mediocrity Reply:

    “I showed it by providing internship opportunities to only DPU students, not UIC, NU, or UofC students.”

    Well, that type of nepotism is never good. So you are admitting on a public forum to dismissing candidates simply because of their school affiliation? From internships to athletic directors, positions should be filled based only on merit and results.

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  11. Mediocrity on March 12th, 2018 11:41 pm

    A. Gabriel Esteban: “His insistence on hiring people based on merit and absolute objection to getting ahead using one’s personal connections is atypical in Filipino culture, where it’s not unusual for elected officials to appoint relatives to key positions.”

    That quote is from an article written about DePaul’s President. Hopefully he will soon bring that same type of policy to DePaul Athletics.

    #FIREJLP

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  12. Eileen Maloney on March 13th, 2018 12:43 pm

    I do not think that if you searched all of Chicagoland – no all of anywhere- you will find someone who has given more of herself to DePaul and the DePaul community selflessly than Jeanne Lenti Ponsetto. Similarly, Kandace is wholeheartedly committed to the DePaul Community.

    DePaulia, please explain how these two celebrated and talented women, somehow put their own interests above the school they have served and loved for nearly their entire lives. If you can’t, there is no conflict and the biggest scandal here is your reporting of this non-issue.

    Thank you Jeanne and Kandace for all that you have done and continue to do for the DePaul Community and our school.

    Shame on you DePaulia!

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  13. Karma on March 13th, 2018 1:32 pm

    I Don’t buy into the tenure length, interests, and where loyalties lie argument. Shame on JLP and Kandace Lenti. This was completely a conflicted arrangement with intent. All who are involved are responsible, and this should be looked into more closely. Period. Great reporting.

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  14. Epstein's mother on March 13th, 2018 10:45 pm

    First a previous commenter said JLP is responsible for athletic success at DePaul. With the exception of softball and women’s basketball, what exactly has been successful?

    Secondly, an external sports marketing firm was used. Which firm? Does a Lenti name appear on its board of directors? If so then there’s more to the story.

    Finally, JLP has given so much in service to the university, however, her presence is a divisive force, it might be better to step aside and ride off into the sunset.

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  15. Frank L. on March 14th, 2018 12:29 pm

    You didn’t present any analysis about the key point and you partially violated your obligation to keep confidential the identify of your anonymous source.

    The key point you didn’t write about is the ONLY potential negative result for Depaul: did Ms. Lenti Ponsetto’s relationship to her sister result in DePaul getting a deal which was less than it should have? In other words, did a personal relationship lead DePaul, with Ms. Lenti’s involvement, to be shortchanged?

    The likely honest answer is that DePaul got precisely the level of value it should have. I base my comment on what I know about these deals, the Chicago market and DePaul’s current and probable future value as an endorsement partner. But don’t take my word for it. All you had to do was research such deals, talk to people in the industry for comparisons, etc. I did so and reached my conclusion that the DePaul/Wintrust deal is fair and market-value for both sides.

    As for your partially exposing your source, you identified the source as “he.” That helps in-the-know people narrow the list of potential identities by eliminating all females. That is a significant error. You used the words “the source” and “they” in every other instance but you got sloppy that one time. Now any reader knows the source is a male.

    Frank L., Chicago

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  16. Alumnist Aggravatius on March 15th, 2018 3:19 am

    This, at worst, appears to be an ethical issue and even that I’m not entirely sure would qualify. Also, Frank L. is spot on with both the lack of emphasis on what the ‘conflict of interest’ would actually be and the alarming use of a subject pronoun identifying gender. As others have mentioned, the relationship is only problematic if DePaul did not receive the best deal possible due to it. That’s the meat. Was there corruptive behavior, if so by whom. Who else was/is aware of it? Is there a cover-up?

    I am no fan of Ms. Lenti Ponsetto, nor am I an advocate for her dismissal. The latter will change in a heartbeat if your work digs up any malice behavior even remotely harmful to the University that is connected to and/or caused by Ms. Lenti Ponsetto…

    Now, OT from the article at hand, do I believe Ms. Lenti Ponsetto’s job performance is so substandard that she should be removed from her position? No, I do not. The non-income driving athletics, arena completion, and her standing within the community of NCAA athletic directors are all strong. If she were to be fired would I feel it unjust? Nope. The men’s basketball program is the single most profitable and recognizable aspect of the University- that’s simply the way of life. Her inability to properly identify a coaching staff capable of fielding a competitive program while completely squandering the advantage by one of the most fertile basketball regions in the world as the university’s backyard is staggering. Also, her inability to even recognize how unbelievably massive of an untapped resource the Men’s team is for revenue, enrollment, sponsorships, alum participation/donation, etc. is alone enough to warrant without protest a resignation/termination.

    All of that said, when Ms. Lenti Poncetto’s time as the AD comes to an end, I hope its because of the right reasons (see: above) and not something that potentially disgraces the solid work she has put into the University that is later proven to be a complete truth. The process in which the results are had are as important as the results themselves.

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  17. Rick Telander on March 19th, 2018 4:23 am

    I get a kick out of all the writers blasting the reporters from The DePaulia for trying to ask highly-paid “adults” questions that may be a nuisance or bother to the adults, but which might be important on many levels to many people (students are people, aren’t they?) and which are completely reasonable. So bankers can’t talk to the public? So the AD is too busy to talk to a DePaul journalist? So the school PR folks respond with gibberish?
    “DePaul Athletics assisted in providing corporate sponsorship and marketing elements and community outreach initiatives,” answers the PR person to a simple question. Nine words of three syllables or more out of 14 words, saying what? When you don’t want to tell the truth or are afraid of it, you respond with verbal garbage. Read Orwell.
    There is deep and troubling irony in the fact journalism is taught and graded and extolled at DePaul, but obviously its practice is not welcome when it’s too close to home. Citizens of Chicago helped pay for Wintrust Arena, remember. They deserve answers, just as DePaul students, alumni, and employees deserve answers.
    I’m with the DePaulia 100 percent. Answer the damn questions with real words, real facts, adults, and the issue is over. You got nothing to hide, what’s the problem?! Or would those alleged DePaul lovers and emailers prefer the student journalists shut up, forget what they’ve been taught, and leave big issues to, well, the spin-meisters who can make it all just go away and keep everybody smiling?

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  18. OMZ on March 19th, 2018 8:48 am

    JLP would have been fired long time ago at any other respectable program. Key word: respectable. Years of belligerent mismanagement have turned the university’s flagship program into a laughingstock.

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Athletic Director’s relative played key role in Wintrust agreements