Given the recent legal problems that have hit the University—the lawsuit against Thomas Kannam, and the Stephen Morgan name mix-up—the University has been in need of a good lawyer. Since 2007, David Winakor has been that man. As the University’s first General Counsel, he is an invaluable asset to school administration and a legal jack-of-all trades.
Although large institutions often have as many as 15 trained lawyers, smaller institutions usually have significantly smaller law departments or look to external law firms for sporadic legal assistance. In response to the mounting costs of outside legal sources, however, Vice President of Finance and Administration, John Meerts, created the Office of the General Counsel. Winakor’s work falls into three main categories: day-to-day tasks, ensuring that the University’s actions are in accordance with the law, and risk management.

Winakor covers a broad range of tasks on campus that were managed by other University offices prior to his arrival. Although the University was one of the first NESCAC schools to establish an Office of General Counsel, Winakor estimates that about half of these universities have hired their own lawyer as well.

Before Winakor was hired, legal assistance and queries were often complicated by limited communication with outside law firms. Winakor’s presence as a strong legal mind has helped streamline the University’s administration. This includes his emphasis on reexamining university organizational policies, and establishing a code of conduct fully known among school employees.

Winakor cited one extremely relevant case exemplary of his role: the University’s conflict of interest policy. While the policy was already in existence, Winakor saw the opportunity to modernize it, and tie it in with the University’s other core policies.

“My effort was to make sure employees were educated about the policy and comfortable with its parameters,” he said. “I have a feeling that if a policy is any more than two pages, those are more pages than anyone would be willing to read, so we boiled it down, simplified it, developed a system.”

Winakor’s system involved the creation of an adjacent “whistleblower” policy, which, alongside the conflict of interest guidelines, is receiving large amounts of publicity in the Thomas Kannam case. In such litigation issues, Winakor works in conjunction with and leads outside litigation assistance.

Acting as a bridge between outside groups and the administration, Winakor provides a deep understanding of the inner workings of the University, thereby driving the whole operation forward.

“Any time there is a high level hiring or firing I’m involved from a risk management perspective,” Winakor said. “In this case, it turned out that there was a lot more to it. After the investigation, the president, the cabinet, the board, and I decided further action was necessary. Now, the lawyers representing us are working for the University, but I’m the contact. I manage the day-to-day.”

He says his first priority as General Counsel is to evade and prevent the type of conflict that garners such attention. Through organization, mediation, avoidance, and resolution, Winakor’s job is to manage disputes so the University can focus on the student body. Winakor likens his role to another Renaissance man occupation.

“I’m the family doctor,” he said, with a smile.

A graduate of the University of Connecticut School of Law, Winakor’s legal career began long before his arrival at Wesleyan. He spent eight years as the Assistant General Counsel and Vice President for Business Development at The Stanley Works, based out of New Britain, Conn. Prior to that, he practiced commercial and corporate law at a Hartford-based private practice. Winakor also served as a commissioned officer in the United States Army during Operation Desert Storm.

However, despite his distinguished career in law, Winakor has fully embraced the dynamic nature of his current position.

“My colleagues who are still in private practice are going to be dealing predominantly with whatever walks through their door,” Winakor said. “However, it will never be as factually dynamic as this place. With the constant turnover of students, I encounter things everyday that never show up on law school exams.”

Winakor expressed the challenges and excitements of his job at the University in a 2008 article in the Wesleyan Connection Alumni Magazine.

“At Wesleyan, working in a liberal arts environment, there is an endless supply of cutting edge issues,” Winakor wrote. “I’ll never be at a loss for unique challenges to explore and respond to.”

  • David Lott, ’65

    Puff piece personified. Not a single informed or hard question about the lawsuit against Kannam, or the Morgan”mix up” that is costing the school real cash. How did that happen in the first place? Wasn’t there a way to resolve it prior to a lawsuit? Is Morgan right that the University did not take his complaints seriously and will not diligent in correcting the error?

    Why even bother to publish an article like this?

  • alumn

    Excellent piece on a real leader in the Wes community. He certainly has brought some great organization and ‘teeth’ to an area that was probably underserved in the past.

    Mr. Lott clearly does not understand the purpose of these article. Nor does he ‘get it’ with respect to questions regarding ongoing litigation.

  • David Lott, ’65

    What is the purpose of the article, pray tell?

    And why not ask questions regarding ongoing litigation? They get asked all the time, and sometimes get answered. Winakor is a lawyer. He can decline to answer the questions if he thinks it imprudent to do so. What astonished me was that the Argus never asked.

    Just as I am astonished that the Argus has not continued to report on what is happening in the litigation. What a great journalistic opportunity. Ignored.

  • alum

    It is an incredible opportunity. All they have to do is go down to the courthouse and review the file. They can also hang out at the entrance and watch the defendants’ army of lawyers enter the courthouse and probably get some comments or “no comment” (which in itself speaks volumes). They can attend hearings if they are open.

    The editors just don’t understand the significance of this litigation.

  • David Lott, ’65

    Or they are lazy and unimaginative.

  • alum

    If Winakor said upfront that he could not talk about any pending litigation (a reasonable statement), the authors should have noted that in the first sentence of the article.

    What I fail to understand is that this case is unfolding in the front yard of Wesleyan and Middletown, but no one seems to be on it.

    Watergate started as a small break-in, but Woodward and Bernstein pursued it to the end.

    In the grand scheme of things for Wesleyan, isn’t this equivalent to a potential Watergate?

  • another alum

    How about a “Courthouse” Section of the Argus.

    Morgan vs Wesleyan
    Simonetti vs Wesleyan
    Wesleyan vs Kannam

  • alum

    It might be that the editors are too young to fully grasp the importance of the law and court cases.

    Once they are out in the ‘real world’ their perspectives will surely change.

    If you read through the Kannam postings on the main article from Jan 4th, there is a lot of incredibly interesting additional pieces of evidence that the posters have dug up on some of the parties. There is even an SEC form online that shows Kannam as a managing member of the Belstar investment group, and incredibly lists Wesleyan as an investment advisor to Belstar. Yet, no one has picked this up. I am sure the General Counsel for Wes has all of this, but it would be nice if Argus picked up some of this stuff and wrote about it. There is even a posting that shows that Co-defendant Gill’s wife has a direct association with Wesleyan via her employer who was retained by Wes for executive search services. To me, that’s news worth digging into. And even some of the other defendants have deleted any reference to Kannam on their websites. Why the deletion if there is innocence? Is there a deletion because the other defendants are distancing themselves from Kannam (which is my bet)?

    This is a huge case and it is ripe with multiple storylines and questions to be probed.

  • Fan

    Keep up your good work General Counsel Winakor.

    Your case against Kannam appears strong. Keep the pressure on full blast.

  • David Lott, ’65

    “Your case against Kannam appears strong.”

    I tend to agree, but in over 30 years of law practice “strong” cases can weaken in a heartbeat, if the wrong facts come forward.

    For example, suppose Kannam can prove that someone in authority at Wesleyan knew of his outside activities? Knew of the connections with Gill’s wife (which in themselves are not particularly guilty facts anyway.)

    Suppose he can show that other senior administration at Wesleyan had so called “irregularities” in their expenses? That powers that be knew how he was charging expenses and condoned them somehow?

    You can expect that Kannam will be subpoenaing the expense and travel records of trustees and senior administrators. If they have not kept tidy houses, it could get interesting-and ugly.

    I’m sure Wesleyan thought carefully before bringing this lawsuit. I don’t buy the theory that it’s an attempt to cover poor investment supervision by the board of trustees. But litigation–like war–rarely unfolds as the initial battle plans assume.

  • David Lott, ’65

    Argus editors: do you have any comment on why your paper is not covering this story?

  • David Lott, ’65

    What is Simonetti v. Wesleyan? That’s a new one to me?

  • Fan

    Excellent post Counselor Lott.

    If there was any “approval” of expenses (unless they were misrepresented which I am sure is Wes’ claim) or his outside work was known and tolerated by his superiors, Wes’ case is history. Same goes if they tolerated the same for others of similar rank. Fortunately those folks are few in number and reside in the same physical location as the President. So hatching a scheme and getting away with it for any length of time would be far more difficult. But stranger things have happened.

    Also worth noting is that Kannam’s rank was not that of a professor. A professor’s contract should be materially different. Presumably a professor’s contract permits outside income like speeches and book writing. Let’s hope Kannam’s contract was different from a Professor’s contract.

    Winakor above clearly says that the case was vetted by the President, Cabinet and Board of Trustees. I would have to believe that someone in that group would have pointed out how the case could collapse, and they went over the collapse scenario many, many times. And that they also did a thorough legal, economic and ‘political’ analysis before they filed suit. I have no doubt they did.

    There is evidence (e-mails) offered by Wesleyan that allegedly show that Kannam did everything he could to hide his outside activities, which suggests pretty conclusively that they were not condoned, or that he far exceeded any bounds set by his contract.

    My impression is that Winakor has done his homework exceptionally well.

    Is the case strong? I think so.

  • David Lott, ’65

    Fan, I hope you are right that the case is strong, but we will see. It is a very sad affair, but a very important one. It must be pretty interesting trying to recruit a successor to Mr. Kannam.

    It does make me wonder a bit about Trustee judgment. Assuming that the case is strong, were there no hints of this man’s flaws? I doubt we will ever know the answer to that.

  • Fan

    Evidently not as he had worked at Wes for a number of year’s prior to his ascension. They had ample time to observe his behavior. So whatever was going on, it appears that he was careful to keep his two worlds separate, and pretty good at it. But at some point he got sloppy. I suspect that point came when he started using his Wes staff to do outside work, as Wes alleges. This seems to me the logical point for a whistleblower to come forward.

    The explanation why he apparently strayed may be simply that he was conned by others, was weak and took the bait, and then either got too far in to free himself, or got so intoxicated with the potential for accruing wealth that he could not resist any temptation, including allegedly false travel reimbursement submissions. Of course he may not have been conned and was simply waiting for an opportunity to strike.

    No matter what his contract said, this guy appears to have lost his moral compass at some point. You just don’t do what he allegedly did, contract or not contact.

  • David Lott, ’65

    Agree–plus the tone of his communications was nasty and arrogant.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    David wrote:

    It does make me wonder a bit about Trustee judgment.

    There is a Wesleyan tradition of leaning toward the young in its hires. Colin Campbell was only 33 when he was appointed president, I think. It’s funny how ancient that sounded when I was eighteen! But, of course everything has been shifted downward since then; fifty is the new forty; forty is the new thirty, etc., etc.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    There should be quotes around, “It does make me wonder a bit about Trustee judgment.”

  • Fan

    Nasty and arrogant. Interesting. I did not realize that. I have read some interviews, and found many of his comments to be merely ‘headlines’ and lacking in any type of intellectual depth or rigor.

    Nasty and arrogant, thats a telltale sign of somone who lacks any measure of confidence, is unsure of themselves, is unsteady, and generally has something to hide. It is also the sign of a manipulator. Manipulators almost always employ ‘the offense’ to control the debate in order to mask their deficiencies.

    That suggests that he could have been the mastermind behind the alleged scheme, reeling in his wife and all the other defendants. That’s a wholly different perspective, and might explain Wes’ aggressiveness in the lawsuit. Had Kannam been duped and manipulated because he was too nice of a guy, and simply got caught in a scheme he could not exit, Wes might have elected to work through these issues with him over the course of many months, and in private. A soft landing for all. But Wes did not do this. They went in with all guns blazing within ‘days’ of Kannam’s dismissal. Overwhelming force.

    If in fact Kannam was the mastermind, he should expect that all of his co-defendants will do whatever it takes to protect themselves and abandon him. This is not a good position to be in. It also suggests that the other defendants will ‘wait and see’ what type of ‘paper’ Kannam presents to the court in order to tailor and strengthen their own defenses. So far, as best as I can tell, Kannam is the only one who has fully engaged on the case, based on the case summary. I could be wrong, but it appears that the others are biding their time.

    If you examine the list of defendants, he is the “big boy” on the block. All the others are essentially supporting actors. He was the glue that brought them all together, which suggests that he might have been calling all the shots, leveraging his position to the fullest. I would also guess that his co-hort, Gill, probably was a co-mastermind as it appears that their relationship extends far back in time.

    What do you think about the above argument Counselor Lott? If true, Winakor has crafted a brilliant strategy.

  • Alpha

    Whether he realizes it or not Winakor has crafted a classic short squeeze play. Can Kannam cover his position? Can he satisfy repetitive and unending margin calls?

  • ’11

    Would one of you legal scholars please explain why fraudulent expense reports, utilizing staff for personal enrichment, etc., does not amount to misappropriating funds from the endowment? The endowment pays for these expenses and salaries.

  • Wes is the Best

    Dudes, if Kannam’s legal team fires a blank on Monday, we are in for the trial of a century, as they say. It’s a sure bet that this case will not be dismissed. It would be like betting that the sun won’t come up!

    Never give in, Fight till the end when might and right shall win. Go Winakor! Go Roth!

  • Ron Medley, `73

    because i’m pretty sure the bursar’s office or the treasurer or whomever is charged with paying the bills, doesn’t first go to TDAmeritrade and ask them to liquidate a share of Goldman Sachs so they can pay the light bill. If, 100% of Wesleyan’s cash were invested in the endowment, there’d be no way of paying everyday bills without running up broker fees.

  • ’11

    Don’t you think they have cash on hand to pay endowment expenses. Wouldn’t they have a separate account number and a total separate accounting? If they are managing federal grants, you can bet they have finely tuned and separate accounting. I understand cash is fungible, but from an accounting point of view, things must be separated in order to fairly account.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    there are probably a gazillion separate cash accounts managed by Wesleyan for grant purposes, accounting purposes, and, various housekeeping purposes. One extremely rough rule of thumb that might be of use is whether they are in simple interest-bearing, money market accounts or in something more exotic like, hog belly futures.

  • Acct

    the ultimate question is not of cash. the question posed is whether the investment office’s salaries and expenses are charged against endowment investments and earnings. this is an accounting question, not a cash question.

    regarding cash, i am sure that wes has a rolling cash on hand target and invests in short term securities with staggered maturities. its really pretty simple from a cash perspective. the real question is the accounting charges.

    ps. they should not have very many cash accounts

  • Ron Medley, `73

    No one but Wesleyan’s CPA would know that for sure. Is it a commonly accepted industry-wide practice to charge an executive vice-president’s salary and expenses against a portfolio? Does TDAmeritrade pay its salesmen directly out of its trading accounts? That seems counterintuitive.

  • Acct

    Medley, you are trapped in a corporate organization and accounting model.

    Think of the endowment as a non-profit, funded by contributions. It costs money to operate the non-profit. These operating costs are charged against the endowment. Remember the Matching Principle you learned in Acct’g 101.

    This is no different than the overhead and management fees a mutual fund charges investors.

    Furthermore, both state and federal tax laws require the disclosure of costs to raise and manage money at a non-profit. This is precisely why Blumenthal is looking at this case. To see if any endowment money was misappropriated.

    To charge Kannam’s comp and expenses to a line item other than the endowment would violate the GAAP matching principle.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    this is precisely why I would never put a CPA on the stand.

  • Acct

    aux contrare mr. medley, this is precisely why you need a CPA on the stand. you can bet a CPA will play a HUGE role in this case. it’s all about money after all.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    Believe me, if this ever becomes a case of dueling CPAs, Wes can kiss its case, goodbye.

  • Acct

    Once again, aux contrare Mr. Medley.

    Certainly financial information will be presented by witnesses. That is central to a large part of this case.

    Wes’ “CPA” witness will almost certainly be an outside accountant from one of the big firms who was retained to independently audit the records in order to verify the extent of damages. These guys are pros and regularly serve as expert witnesses at trial.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    this is a contract case. If Winakor needs a CPA to prove that Kannam was paid a salary, the case is lost.

  • Acct

    You forgot about the expense fraud. You forgot about calculating the value of the $3 million, which if more than his comp. You forgot about proving that internal controls at Wes are sound and that the defendant defeated them. There are many, many items that will need an outside accountant to verify/validate. Many, many, many. Everything financial has to pass muster of an outside independant accountant. To do anything less would offer the defendants attorneys to punch one hole after another in the case.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    how is three million dollars more than his comp? My calculator says, $400k (x) 10 yrs= 4 mill.

  • kanom

    Acct why dont you go get an Accounting degree maybe that will help this case more than blogging incessantly on Wesleyan Argus. or go pick up a law degree from UConn like Winakor in your spare time from whatever you do at Wesleyan

  • Acct

    kanom… don’t you have work to do this weekend on the case?

  • Acct

    Vegetable Medley, the $3 million is just a prejudgment remedy. It does not represent the entire claim against Kannam. Read the press and quotes from Winakor carefully.

  • Ron Medley, `73

    You’re the one that brought up the $3million figure. Do you read your own posts?

  • Acct

    You are right. My apologies. I screwed up. I should have written the total financial claim against Kannam, not just $3 million which is the amount of the prejudgment remedy.

    Anyhow, thanks for posting in this comment section. Your comments are well written and raise key issues.

    ps. I hope you don’t mind the “Vegetable” address. I was eating vegetable medley for dinner. I am sure you have heard it before.

  • David Lott, ’65

    ’11: It would be a fraudulent misappropriation. Or, to be more commonplace, theft.

  • David Lott, ’65

    “Colin Campbell was only 33 when he was appointed president, I think.”

    Yeah, that worked out well, didn’t it? The decline in financial stability came under Campbell–a disaster, really.

  • Alum/long time investment pro w/knowledge

    (a) Indeed, the decline of Wesleyan’s financial standing can be traced to the Campbell era when we still were somewhat heady about the “My Weekly Reader/Xerox stock days” and failed to realize that chronic overspending, a legacy of undergifting and poor investment performance/oversight due to lack of allocation to alternatives jeopardized the endowment from 1983-98! (b) as for Mr. Kannam, I’m quite sure the case will show how he successfully hid his activities from IO colleagues, the PSC and successive boards and presidents until he and his fraudsters got sloppy in the spring of last year….and then the con completely unraveled this fall!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Sergio

    The gypsy Kannam and his imbiciles circus headed for starting line of justice Monday. Born gypsy, always gypsy.

  • Justitia

    The scales of justice are suspended from my left hand, upon which I will measure the strength of Wesleyan’s case against you, Mr. Kannam.

    OMG… I have never seen the scales tip so violently against a defendant since Madoff sat before me…. I can barely hang on to them… LMFAO

  • ’13

    Dear Alum/long time investment pro w/knowledge

    Why do you think con artists always get sloppy?

  • whodunnit?

    Monday’s hearing should be the theater of the absurd. All the ‘suits’ lined up arguing that Kanam was given permission to be employed elsewhere in second, third and fourth jobs. I hope there is a tape of it available. If he doesn’t pass the contract hurdle, he’s sure as shit gonna say that he got permission from someone. That argument alone will send it to trial.

  • Justitia


    you are right. if there is any ambiguity in the contract it goes to trial

    if it comes down to he said/she said, it goes to trial

    does anyone think it won’t go to trial?

    short of explicit contract language permitting multiple outside jobs or a signed letter by his boss permitting him to earn income at other multiple jobs, it goes to trial

    Justitia says, ‘we be headed to trial’!

  • Ron Medley, `73

    I can’t let this pass, David:

    “Colin Campbell was only 33 when he was appointed president, I think.”

    Yeah, that worked out well, didn’t it? The decline in financial stability came under Campbell–a disaster, really.

    One of these days, the full story of how a 30-something named, Colin Campbell saved Wesleyan’s 150 year-old fat from the proverbial fire, will be revealed. Hopefully, Prof. David Potts is working on it, even as we speak.

    Briefly, it was Colin who introduced long-range planning to Wesleyan, based on advanced techniques in computer modeling (Wesleyan was an early user of academic and financial computing); it was Colin who alerted Wesleyan’s board to the danger that, at 1970 rates of spending, Wesleyan would entirely exhaust its endowment in less than five years. We’re talking, zero market value. Zilch. Bupkus.

    Incredible as it may seem, prior to Colin, there was no chief financial officer; Wesleyan’s entire financial existence was handled out of the inside jacket pocket of the president, as one faculty observer put it, “like a mom and pop store.”

    It is a testament to Colin’s quiet discipline and low-keyed management style that when he retired from Wesleyan’s presidency eighteen years later, not only was the endowment fully intact in constant dollars, but, most people in educated circles still considered Wesleyan a relatively wealthy college — which it was, and still is, in many ways.

  • David Lott, ’65

    Well, I’ll accept your view that Campbell was not the culprit in the financial decline.

    But who was?

    Every time a culprit is fingered, there’s a refutation.

    Somehow Wesleyan went from having the second highest per student capita endowment in the country to being in the middle of the pack, and vulnerable to the next downturn.

    I will await the book on Campbell with interest and (I hope) an open mind. But there’s another story to be written, that no one wants to touch.