I am the editor in chief of The Spectrum, but I am also a student at UB and for the past three weeks I've had a front row seat for one of the biggest scandals in Student Association history.
The scariest part is that nobody in my office was surprised when SA Treasurer Sikander Khan wanted to fork over $300,000 of student money for a mobile application produced by a company that had no record or any discernable employees. That's because we're all used to SA's nonsense.
The organization claims to be dedicated solely to our needs as students. But if you've followed The Spectrum this semester, getting anybody in SA to speak about anything that matters is like trying to make it from NSC to the CFA in time for your next class.
If you read the profile on Khan in today's paper, you'll probably be as bewildered as I have been by his silence. Isn't it strange that a man who never turned away from a chance to let his voice be heard has suddenly lost his ability to speak and hear?
Ironically, he ran for treasurer last year as part of the "VOICE" Party with current Vice President Meghan McMonagle (who also wanted to fork over the $300,000 and hasn't spoken since) and President JoAnna Datz (who Khan hasn't spoken to virtually all semester). Rather than explain himself to the 18,000 undergraduates he's claimed to serve for the past 12 months, he resigned from his post.
I think he is just biding his time.
Full confession: Khan is mad at me.
Simple. I'm a journalist and I want answers - for myself and for you, the students I serve.
That's why my staff and I launched an investigation into Virtual Academix, the company Khan wanted to give $300,000 in student money. My investigation didn't turn up a lot of hard evidence, but there sure were a lot of half-truths and shades of grey.
As a journalist and as editor in chief, I've learned to hold back any information I can't verify. If I'm not sure if something is right, I'm not going to put it in print. That's my pact with you, my readers.
So, much of what I learned, we didn't print. But my staff and I did find a lot of odd connections - UB connections. But no one would talk to us. When we tried again, almost every source directed us to a lawyer who had no comment.
To date, we don't really know how the $300,00 deal originated or where the student money would have gone. We can't even find anyone to tell us what Virtual Academix is - or was.
On Tuesday afternoon, The Spectrum contacted UB alum Omar Mehr, the founder of Abadan Inc. and CEO of Virtual Academix.
The Spectrum: Do you have some time to chat about your company, Virtual Academix?
Omar Mehr: Actually, I would not like to chat about that.
The Spectrum: You don't want to talk about it?
Omar Mehr: No. It's been referred to an attorney.
The Spectrum: Do you have a reason why you've retained an attorney since you aren't being investigated or involved in a court case?
Omar Mehr: They're better at this type of stuff than I am.
The Spectrum: What kind of stuff?
Omar Mehr: Whatever you guys want to know.
The Spectrum: You don't even know what we want to know, so how do you know your attorney is better at it?
Omar Mehr: OK, I think we're done.
The Spectrum: OK, thank you.
How can a CEO have nothing to say about his company or the $300,000 contract his company signed earlier this month?
How can anyone think Virtual Academix is legitimate?
So here it is - one of the shades of grey we have been too afraid to report anywhere else in our coverage:
Virtual Academix is a scam.
I can't prove it - like a good journalist should.
But I know it.
I know it because nobody is talking and everybody is hiding.
So I am using this space - an opinion column - to say it. I only have a week left at The Spectrum and feel this is my last chance.
Maybe the secret is Viqar Hussain - the UB alum with ties to SA, and, most troubling, to Khan.
In our investigation, I wrote that one of Hussain's brothers used to study with Khan in the SA office. Hussain's name was mentioned when I called the number listed on the Virtual Academix website. Hussain apparently lives in Boston - the headquarters of Virtual Academix - and is the founder of a similar technology company - Accel Mobile.
After The Spectrum's April 11 investigative article on Virtual Academix ran, Hussain's Facebook and LinkedIn pages disappeared. I called Mehr and he referred me to his lawyer, Lynne Blank, who, true to her name, offered me nothing except empty reassurances that the company was legitimate.
I find it hard to believe that Hussain isn't somehow involved. He was an SA e-board member, a Muslim Student Association president (so was Khan), and - according to former SA sources - a man with a history of controversy.
I can't prove that Hussain is involved. He is everywhere and he is nowhere. I can't find a listing for him, nor can I find a phone number to reach him. If I'm wrong, I would gladly run a retraction on Friday. My phone number is 716-645-8560, Viqar. Clear everything up for me.
Also among the silent is McMonagle, who turned her back on Spectrum reporters asking for an interview earlier this month. In doing that, she wasn't just turning her back on us, but on every student at this university.
The SA leaders need to be accountable. They need to answer for their actions.
McMonagle has been so underwhelming this year that no one is going to remember she was vice president. SA officials say she was barely present all semester.
Still, it's Khan who deserves the most scrutiny.
He's the kind of guy who always has a plan.
But what is it this time?
Either he is protecting those who tried to con us all, or he is waiting until May 14 so he can get the hell out of here.
Khan has broken his silence only to offer off the record meanderings. He won't say anything on the record, but claims to have proof that would clear his name.
But he's waiting. Waiting for what? Your guess is as good as mine. I doubt there is any evidence at all.
In a Facebook message earlier this week, to Senior Life Editor and 2012-13 Editor in Chief Aaron Mansfield, he wrote, "My mother found out about all this and she had decided that I should come back home. Hopefully, on May 14 I am leaving this country for good and I don't see any reason to tell you anything."
Classy exit, dude.
Khan is an embarrassment to SA, to UB, and to the Muslim Student Association.
In the Facebook message to Mansfield, Khan claimed that he's going to show the students what happened. He said he is going to use an alternative forum other than The Spectrum.
I'll believe that when I see it.
Cheers, Sikander. Thanks for nothing.