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Alum claims Minnesota university not meeting goals of endowment; wants money back

COLLEGEVILLE, Minn.—An alumnus who gave $300,000 to St. John's University wants the money back, but the school says it doesn't have the authority.

California attorney Roger Lindmark says the Collegeville, Minn., institution has mismanaged his gifts by awarding endowed funds to several students who didn't earn them.

"Universities need to learn there are consequences when they don't do their job in fulfilling the parameters of an endowment set up for a specific purpose," he wrote in a 2017 letter to the school's president.

In May, St. John's asked a circuit court judge to approve its administration of the endowment.

Lindmark later sued his alma mater in U.S. District Court, demanding that the endowment, now worth around $400,000, be dissolved and the money returned to him.

Attorneys for St. John's have asked a federal judge to dismiss the federal suit. They say that only the attorney general has the authority to enforce the terms of a charitable gift. In any case, they say, Lindmark is not the legal donor of the $300,000 because the funds never quite belonged to him.

The initial $50,000 came from American Express as part of a class-action lawsuit over the way it calculated interest charges. Lindmark was the lead plaintiff, and although he directed the donation to his alma mater in 2004, the money didn't flow through him. Likewise, the $250,000 in 2008 came from a gas antitrust settlement Lindmark worked on as an attorney.

"It is clear here that while Lindmark may have played some role in the funds being transferred to St. John's and the establishment of the endowment, it was not as its donor," the school's attorneys wrote this month.

Lindmark had no oversight role in the endowment, the school said, but he was sent documentation as a courtesy. To Lindmark, those records revealed that the school was not following the terms he had laid out.

The Lindmark Endowment for Corporate Business Ethics was to pay for a 10-week summer fellowship for rising seniors. Students were expected to complete a substantial research project on corporate business ethics and submit a paper for publication or apply to present at conferences.

Of the 10 research papers Lindmark had reviewed since 2012, he said only one had anything to do with the endowment's purpose. Other students studied such topics as "soil conservation, wonderment in the classroom, solar power for low-income people and romance in the workplace," he wrote.

Lindmark included in the court filing a five-page paper from a 2014 student explaining that he read a lot that summer but never settled on a research topic and hadn't written anything "worthy of submission."

"This student did not fulfill the research project with a substantive paper," Lindmark wrote, "but was paid his $7,000 summer stipend from the endowment fund anyway."

The judge has not yet ruled on the school's motion to dismiss the federal suit.

Lindmark also sued the school last year after he slipped on ice and snow in March 2014, breaking his knee in the parking lot of the school's alumni apartment. That case, too, has yet to be resolved.

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