'Mystery donor' comes to OA's rescue

Published Saturday, February 21, 2009

An unnamed University of Central Arkansas graduate has come to the Oxford American's aid to the tune of $100,000.

This amount very nearly replaces the money that came up missing from the UCA-based magazine's coffers in early 2008 in an alleged embezzlement scheme, while also neatly solving a back taxes dilemma that publisher Warwick Sabin feared could have scuttled the whole publication.

Among the debts incurred by the magazine as a result of a missing $104,000, a debt prosecutors believe was allegedly incurred as former office manager Vicki Renae Maxwell wrote checks from the magazine's accounts in 2007 that were never sent and pocketed cash in the amount of these checks, is $57,000 in back taxes. Maxwell is out on bond awaiting trial.

According to Sabin, the Internal Revenue Service insisted on a lump payment of $31,000 before entertaining the possibility of a payment plan. As the Oxford American had about $27,000 in total operating funds Thursday and the IRS had threatened bankruptcy if the $31,000 was not paid, this was problematic.

Sabin, who again clarified that he was speaking as a magazine publisher and not UCA's vice-president for communications, said the first priority for the money is settling the IRS debt in full.

"The way (the donated funds are) being structured is to first resolve our IRS debt," he said. "The remaining balance can be used at the publisher's discretion, but clearly I want to use some of it to 'get right' with UCA."

"Getting right" with UCA will mean repaying a $140,000 loan from taxpayer-generated UCA funds. This loan was approved by the UCA Board of Trustees in April, and part of this arrangement was the understanding that this debt would be repaid within 12 months. Another part of the agreement was the installation of Sabin as publisher, charged with administering the magazine's finances, while former publisher Mark Smirnoff remains in control of editorial decisions.

To date, Sabin said, no payments on the debt have been made, but that could change Monday, when he expects to see a Fed-Ex envelop on his desk containing a check signed by someone who "has a lot of admiration for the magazine and has been reading it since its inception."

"This person thinks it's a great thing to have the magazine there and wants to sustain it," Sabin said. "They were looking for a way to support the university and when the person saw the article in (Friday's) newspaper they thought this would be the perfect way to get involved and support the magazine he or she admires."

Interim UCA President Tom Courtway said he was grateful to the donor Friday, and that he supported both the magazine and the $140,000 loan, though his support for the former is based somewhat on the repayment of the latter.

"I think obviously it was recognized as a great literary magazine when it was brought in and put on our campus several years ago," Courtway said. "Obviously it has had some difficult times for a variety of reasons, but it has maintained its presence here, and we believe although there's some trials ahead, there are better days ahead of it as far as the business side.

"As long as the university doesn't have to put additional funds in there and it is cash-flowing ... there are two benefits: one is the presence of that magazine and its affiliation with the university," he continued, "and No. 2, and just as importantly, is the opportunity for students that choose to come here and have internships to have a place to learn literary writing or publishing or working the business side of a magazine."

One such intern was Kelly Kish, who worked at the magazine as a student intern. When he graduated he took a full-time job there as a production supervisor.

Kish echoed Courtway's statement.

"The first part is it's a pretty amazing opportunity to get some real-world magazine publishing experience," he said. "It's something you can't find anywhere except right here at UCA, and the second part of that would be this isn't just something that you do on campus and it stays here; it's national and you can go into Barnes and Noble bookstores anywhere and see the Oxford American with the words 'Proudly published from the University of Central Arkansas' on the cover."

(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by e-mail at joe.lamb@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1238. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)

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