Campus, CSU, News

CSULB faces $500,000 lawsuit by former donor

By: Vincent Medina and Hannah Shields

Long Beach State released a statement in response to the lawsuit Regena Cole, a CSULB philanthropist, had filed against the university, which claimed she was coerced into a $25 million gift agreement.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Nov. 21, claimed the 49er Foundation took advantage of the 95-year-old woman’s weakened physical and mental state and tried to “isolate Cole from her family, friends and lawyers.”

Cole currently seeks $500,000 in damages on the claim of financial elder abuse, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and rescission, according to the lawsuit.

Gregory Woods, a CSULB public representative, responded to the lawsuit in a written statement, saying the university wished to dispute the allegations and “set the record straight.”

“We have appreciated the donor’s long standing support of our students, including her 2020 transformational commitment to the university. We are deeply disappointed and saddened that attorneys have filed this ill-considered and unsupportable complaint in the donor’s name,” the statement read.

Originally, a $16.4 million gift agreement in 2008 was made to the university’s music department from the Bob Cole Trust, the largest donation in CSULB’s history. The gift donation was made in honor of Regena Cole’s late husband, Bob Cole, who had a passion for music, and the music department was renamed the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music.

Cole alleged she was coerced into signing a gift agreement in 2020 that required her to make an “irrevocable cash contribution” of $25 million, according to the lawsuit, and if the amount was not paid within her lifetime, it would be considered a “debt of the estate.”

Woods clarified that “the 2020 commitment is independent of other gifts from the donor.”

According to the lawsuit, this gift agreement was disclosed by the 49er Foundation “months after the agreement was purportedly signed” and allegedly claims the agreement “was based upon the ideas of Cole’s attorney who had no knowledge of the ‘Gift Agreement’ at the time of its creation and execution.”

Michele Cesca, the 49er Foundation agent and former vice president of university relations and development, allegedly did not disclose the gift agreement to Cole’s attorney until months after the purported signing, according to the lawsuit. Cesca emailed Cole’s attorneys in November 2020, where she “completely misrepresented key facts” of the agreement, the lawsuit stated.

The purported $25 million contribution was to go toward the construction of a music village on CSULB campus, which would bear neither Cole’s nor her husband’s name, but that of another CSULB employee, Dr. Robert M. Bersi, according to the lawsuit.

The case, Regna C. Cole v. California State University Long Beach; California State University Long Beach 49er Foundation, is set to appear at the Long Beach courthouse on Feb. 6, 2023, and April 21, 2023.

Cole demanded a trial by jury.

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