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New budget chair in wake of scandal

Nearly one month after their Budget chair resigned under questionable circumstances, Student Government welcomed a new chair of their Funding and Transfers Committee last week.

SG senator Juan Carlos Soltero replaces Matthew Coppens, who was accused of using his position to authorize a budget transfer for the Beef Studs, of which he was a ranking member.

Soltero takes the job just three months after transferring to USF’s Tampa campus from the University’s St. Petersburg campus, where he sat on the SG Budget Committee and served as a vice chair.

Soltero said he served as a member of both the Rules and Internal Affairs committees over the summer and sat in on budget meetings to find out how SG functions.

He was made a voting member of the committee and already has ideas as to how he wants to change the operations.

“I plan on (the Budget Committee) to be completely different from when (Coppens) ran it,” Soltero said. “He would take care of all the internal stuff … then bring it to the committee to vote.”

Problems for Coppens began toward the end of August when members of SG Administrative Services (SGAS) took notice of a suspicious budget transfer.

Coppens authorized a transfer of $1,100 from the Beef Studs materials fund to their travel fund. The transfer would have helped pay for their trip to the USF football game Sept. 8 in Auburn.

Coppens, though not a member of the club’s executive board, was active in the Beef Studs and signed on as the responsible traveler for the trip.

“SGAS believes a conflict of interest has occurred in that the SG Budget Committee chairman Matthew Coppens was serving his personal interests as an executive member of the Beef Studs while serving as the SG Budget Committee chairman,” the memo states.

Suspicions were roused when SGAS noticed that confirmation for hotel reservations – covered by travel funds – were sent to Coppens’ e-mail address, according to an internal memo.

Coppens said the ethical questions raised did not pertain to his case since he was not the fiscal officer or a member of the executive board of the Beef Studs.

“I advocated for the Beef Studs as I would have for College Republicans as I would have for the chess club,” Coppens said in a written statement. “It was my personal goal to see all student organizations get funding that would be used to assist them in their ventures.”

After SGAS conducted further research into the matter, they approached SG senate president Nathan Davison, who then discussed the issue with Coppens.

“With all the things going on with (former student body president) Barclay (Harless) in the background we had to maintain integrity,” he said. “We didn’t threaten (Coppens) but encouraged him to resign… We went through all the proper channels. “

All elected officials can be subject to the impeachment process or a vote of no confidence, Davison said.

A week before he was presented with the possibility of impeachment, Coppens said he had drafted a letter of resignation in response to an increased course load.

Soltero hopes to avoid this sort of controversy by maintaining transparency.

“I want to be fair to all organizations and consistent throughout,” he said. “I’ll follow the guidelines for Student Government to form decisions … I want to be informed, be fair, be honest and let everyone know what’s going on in the budget.”

Ultimately the funds transfer was rejected by SGAS director David Armstrong, who said it was unfair for members of the Beef Studs to receive money for travel while 3,000 other students would have to pay full price to travel to Auburn.

Beef Studs president Michael Uglialoro said Coppens made the request while the group was disorganized, in an attempt to help.

“We didn’t have any ulterior motives,” he said. “The Beef Studs is not a closed group; anyone is free to join. Just find us before a game and we’ll give you some food, a non-alcoholic drink and paint you up.”