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UF scholarship fund spent on wrong students for years

The University of Florida Foundation took millions of dollars from a southwest Florida donor and put in the wrong scholarship fund, using it for national merit scholars instead of students it was meant to benefit.

When businessman Paul Franklin died in 1988, his will established the Paul G. and Harriet C. Franklin Memorial Scholarship, directing that the money go to needy students.

For years after his death, however, the money was directed for scholarships to national merit scholars.

Recent pressure from a group of Lee County residents prompted foundation officials to change the scholarship, giving the preference back to Franklin's target group and zeroing in on those from southwest Florida.

In the 2000-01 academic year, 131 students from the area were awarded $237,000 in scholarships from the endowment fund, which now stands at $8.78-million, said Chris Brazda, the foundation's spokesman. The fund generated $439,248 for students this year.

"We made a mistake, and it's been fixed," Brazda said Wednesday at UF's Gainesville campus.

Associate vice president Leslie Bram told the Fort Myers New-Press recently that the mistake was an administrative error. "They just put it in the wrong pot," she said.

Jody Hendry of Buckingham, a friend of Franklin, began pressing for information about the scholarship last year.

"Paul never intended the money to be used that way. The money they used for national merit scholarships should be replaced," she said.

Franklin left no family and that is one of the reasons it took so long to find the error, Brazda said.

Franklin was a developer, a bank director and manager of a hardware store and hotel in Fort Myers. He sat on Fort Myers' housing authority and was a chamber of commerce president.

When he died, he left the bulk of his estate to the foundation, giving it the power to determine who is needy and not stating any preference for students from southwest Florida.

Brazda said the university uses a formula established by the federal government to determine need.