Financial audit reveals conflicts of interest for former UK cheerleading coach

The University of Kentucky’s financial audit of its cheerleading program found conflicts of interest “that may have resulted in the personal enrichment” of former head coach Jomo Thompson and assistant coaches.

The report from UK’s Office of Internal Audit, dated Sept. 24, 2020, was commissioned as part of the school’s investigation into the cheerleading program that resulted in the firing of Thompson and his assistant coaches in May.

According to the report, obtained by The Courier Journal through the state’s open records law, Thompson owns or was a shareholder in two businesses that he “used regularly to conduct unofficial UK cheerleading activities or further his personal financial interests.” The Lexington Herald-Leader first reported the contents of the audit Thursday.

Thompson and a relative of one of the assistant cheerleading coaches purchased Central Elite Kentucky, a Lexington cheerleading-focused gym, in 2019. Under their direction, CEK facilities were used for UK cheerleading practice, and Thompson and the cheerleading program director of operations referred students and potential UK cheerleaders to receive training there, according to the report.

Thompson also acquired 50,000 shares of restricted stock of The Spirit Apps Inc., a company that created the smartphone application CheerLife to provide cheerleaders with training opportunities and coaches with networking opportunities. After Thompson’s purchase of the stock, the Spirit Apps CEO asked him and/or cheerleaders to creating training content for the app to be monetized, develop a video block and “create a point of contact to tract the actions of the Blue and White cheer squads and promote CheerLife on social media.”

UK’s Office of Internal Audit did not find evidence of university permission to use cheerleaders to promote CheerLife or to use UK’s brand marks. No evidence of payments from UK to Spirit Apps was found.

“The head coach’s stock ownership increases the likelihood that decisions to involve UK cheerleaders in the CheerLife app would be for the head coach’s personal financial benefit, rather than in UK’s best interests,” the report concluded.

The Office of Internal Audit also found the cheerleading program purchased more than $8,000 worth of T-shirts for camps from companies owned by a former UK cheerleader without disclosing the prior relationship. It also found that Cheer Experts, a company owned by a former cheerleader that paid Thompson $5,000 in fiscal year 2018 and $7,000 in fiscal year 2019 to work camps, used UK’s logo and pictures of UK cheerleaders to promote its camps despite cheerleading program advisor T. Lynn Williamson giving one assistant coach responsibility of ensuring Cheer Experts did not use UK logos or pictures of the squad in promotional material.

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