FAU Scandal: Is Prez MJ Saunders Fudging Truth on Trustee?

MJ Saunders

Mary Jane Saunders (fau.edu photo)

flag-exclusiveFlorida Atlantic University President Mary Jane Saunders acts like she can’t be blamed for the recent appointment as school trustee of a Palm Beach Gardens businesswoman with so many skeletons in her closet that she might as well buy a cemetery.

Elizabeth Fago Smith and husband Charles

Elizabeth Fago Smith and her husband Charles at the recent Leukemia & Lymphoma gala in Palm Beach (Mike Jachles Photo)

Yet, statements by two prominent men who supported Fago Smith’s nomination show otherwise!

Saunders just told Gossip Extra exclusively that she had nothing to do with the appointment of Palm Beach Gardens businesswoman Elizabeth Fago Smith.

The story of Fago Smith’s background was another Gossip Extra exclusive:

Fago Smith, a Republican fundraiser who ran a large chain of down-market, no frills retirement homes, has a spotty financial history that includes scores of lawsuits filed against her for non-payment of bills by small businesses. She owed millions to the IRS for years, and fought labor unrest in her businesses when she refused to offer health benefits to some nurses.

Oh, yes: Fago was married to a 1980s drug lord with ties to the Cali cocaine cartel.

Furthermore, there’s no evidence Fago Smith has any expertise in higher education.

Said FAU prez Saunders: “The university has no role in the appointment of a trustee. I have no role in appointing a trustee. I know Ms. Fago Smith because she was co-honorary chair of our scholarship gala. But I did not nominate her. The governor’s office does that.

“A lot of people put in for these positions.”

Yet, two letters in Fago Smith’s application for the appointment and obtained by Gossip Extra indicate that Saunders asked Fago Smith to put in for the gig, and that the two are close.

Click here to read the letters

“As I understand it, Elizabeth was approached by FAU President MJ Saunders, who encouraged Ms. Fago to consider pursuing an appointment,” wrote former U.S. Ambassador to Italy Mel Sempler, in his recommendation to the governor.

“Elizabeth has a close working relationship with Mary Jane Saunders, both personally and through her involvement with Scripps,” wrote Palm Beach Gardens developer and former FAU trustee Llwyd Ecclestone, in his letter to the governor.

Saunders has been asked if she wishes to change her comments about Fago Smith but has yet to respond.

The governor’s office, meanwhile, has yet to comment on its choice of Fago Smith, who was pressured into resigning from two high-profile Palm Beach County boards in the mid-2000s when some of her background became public.

She was nominated to one of those, the Scripps Florida Corporation, by then-Governor Jeb Bush.

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