Cheer internal audit finds conflicts of interest for former coaching staff

Haley Simpkins

According to UK’s Office of Internal Audit, the former cheerleading staff had numerous financial conflicts of interest between their roles at UK and other income streams.

In the report dated Sept. 24, the investigation by the OIA found conflicts of interest within the cheerleading program and former administration that “may have resulted in the personal enrichment of the head coach and assistant coach.”

All of the coaching staff, including head coach Jomo Thompson, were fired in May of 2020 following a hazing investigation that concluded the coaches failed to provide proper oversight to the program, citing instances of drinking and public nudity.

According to the audit report, Thompson and a relative of one of the assistant coaches purchased a Lexington-based cheerleading gym named Central Elite Kentucky. CEK also employed two of the former assistant coaches as they continued coaching for the UK cheerleading program.

CEK facilities were used for UK cheerleading practice without any agreement or payment to use the gym for that purpose, the report found, and Thompson had referred students and potential cheerleaders to receive training at CEK.

Thompson also held 50,000 shares of The Spirit Apps, Inc., the company which developed the CheerLife app which provides training opportunities for cheerleaders and networking opportunities for coaches. After buying these shares, Thompson was approached by the CEO of The Spirits Apps, Inc. who asked Thompson and the cheerleaders to create multimedia content to be monetized by the company, as well as “create a point of contact to track the actions of the Blue and White cheer squads and promote CheerLife on social media.”.

The investigation found there had been no previous permission granted to The Spirit Apps, Inc. to use UK cheerleaders or UK brand images to promote CheerLife. The investigation also found no proof of payment from Spirit Apps, Inc. to UK.

“The head coach’s stock ownership increases the likelihood that decisions to involve UK cheerleaders in the CheerLife app would be for the head coach’s personal financial benefit, rather than in UK’s best interests,” the report reads.

The report also found that The Cheer Experts, a company owned by a former UK cheerleader, held non-varsity athletic camps at which Thompson worked. The Cheer Experts paid Thompson $5,000 in the 2018 fiscal year and $7,000 in the 2019 fiscal year. UK branding was also used to promote their events and UK cheerleaders worked at the camps. This happened despite former cheerleading program adviser T. Lynn Williamson giving one of the assistant coaches the responsibility to make sure The Cheer Experts did not use UK logos or cheerleaders in promotional material, according to the audit report.

According to the report, UK cheerleading had also purchased from numerous businesses owned by former UK cheerleaders without disclosing the prior relationship between the two parties. The report found the UK Cheerleading program had purchased more than $8,000 worth of t-shirts over the last three years for camps from two companies owned by a former UK cheerleader.

The investigation found no improper conduct on the subject of meal per diem debit cards that cheerleaders used to may for food during breaks, games and trips in the 2020 fiscal year.

The report also found former assistant coaches had not received campus securities training in the 2018 and 2019 calendar years.

“This is pertinent as many of the coaches regularly work with minors at cheer camps, which require a higher level of care and supervision,” the report reads.

Prior to the investigations by OIA and other offices, UK cheerleading was listed as a student organization. UK cheerleading has since been moved under the supervision of UK Athletics.

“This move addresses major concerns with transparency and governance moving forward,” the report concluded. A resolution plan has also been executed with the UK Athletics Department as a result of the investigation.