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For nearly two decades, the "largest philanthropic event" at Penn has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for a charity that bridges education gaps in low-income Philadelphia neighborhoods. But Wharton's graduate student government has allegedly withheld at least $90,000 in promised donations from the event — prompting student resignations in protest and an ongoing dispute over what happened to the money.

The annual event, known as Penn Fight Night, pits graduate students against one another in boxing matches and sells tickets marketed in support of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia. Last year's event in April raised approximately $165,000, according to multiple students, who added that the Boys & Girls Clubs were told that the funds would be donated shortly afterward.

However, the Wharton Graduate Association — the umbrella organization which oversees Penn Fight Night and manages its finances — only donated $75,000 to the Clubs and has yet to contribute $90,000 in promised funding, sources familiar said. 

An investigation by The Daily Pennsylvanian uncovered evidence of unfulfilled promises about the donation made by the WGA to Fight Night leadership and the Clubs — leading to concern over the status of a donation that the Clubs deemed critical to support literacy initiatives for over 1,300 children in Philadelphia.

Interviews with multiple current and former leaders of the WGA and its affiliated clubs — all of whom were granted anonymity out of fear of retaliation — event sponsors, and Clubs employees offered insights into the circumstances and consequences of a Fight Night event that has led to nearly a year of dispute.

"We really need this money," one source described being told by the Clubs. "The kids really need this money.”

A philanthropic event

Penn Fight Night's annual matches have led to windfalls for the Clubs, with the 2022 event raising over $175,000 for charity.

Prior to the most recent event on April 8, 2023, Penn Fight Night advertised that it was their “mission” to raise over $200,000 for the Clubs. This total was not reached, as the 2023 event raised approximately $165,000, according to multiple sources.

A source directly familiar with the matter told the DP that Krishna Shah, the co-chair of Penn Fight Night at the time, emailed the Clubs after the event concluded. The DP obtained the May 4, 2023 email, in which Shah wrote that a donation of $160,000 would be finalized on the following day.

"We've counted all our dimes and all our nickels after everything, [and] we realized that we can give you a donation of $165,000," the source described Shah as conveying. "You can expect this donation to be transferred."

Shah declined multiple requests for comment. 

The source added that he believed Shah's email was sent after she consulted with the WGA and its chief financial officer at the time, 2023 Wharton MBA graduate Kip Werner, regarding all of the costs and revenue from the event.

An April 5, 2023 Instagram post by Penn Fight Night and one of its sponsors wrote that “all proceeds” from the event would go to the Clubs.

Credit: Lea Chu Students from the Wharton School and the Penn Law School organize the first annual Penn Fight Night on April 29, 2005, which aimed to raise money for charity.

The 2023 Penn Fight Night included a team of Wharton boxers competing against a team of boxers belonging to other Penn graduate schools — including Penn Carey Law, the Perelman School of Medicine, the School of Veterinary Medicine, Penn Engineering, and the Graduate School of Education.

A Wharton spokesperson originally declined to comment for this story. The spokesperson later added that since the WGA is an independent 501(c)(3) operating separately from Wharton, they do not have any insight into the allegations. 

According to Penn Fight Night leaders with whom the DP spoke, WGA manages all of the funds raised by Penn Fight Night. Those leaders alleged that unlike in previous years, the WGA did not transfer all of the funds to the Clubs before the end of the spring semester.

One leader specifically critiqued Werner, saying that he “ghosted” Fight Night members. The leader contended that bills were not getting paid at this time under Werner’s leadership and individuals were not submitting bills across the board — characterizing the situation as a “whole mess.” Others — including WGA leadership in a letter to clubs — said that financial difficulties that the WGA encountered were not attributable to any one particular leader.

Werner did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. The Clubs did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Robert Borghese, an adjunct professor at Wharton and the faculty advisor of Penn Fight Night, also declined to elaborate.

"As faculty advisor to Fight Night, I know that there are issues between WGA and Fight Night as to how funds have been allocated and distributed but I do not have actual knowledge of exactly what transpired so I cannot comment," Borghese wrote.

Financial restructuring

Between April — when Penn Fight Night was held — and August, Fight Night leadership regularly followed up with the WGA to check on the status of the funding, Fight Night leaders told the DP. During this period, the leaders contended that the WGA repeatedly said that “the money is coming,” relaying those updates back to the Clubs.

Then, in September, the WGA uncovered widespread financial discrepancies in the funding for the organizations under its leadership — forcing all organizations to reset their balance. WGA Chief Financial Officer and Wharton MBA candidate Loyd Bradley told the DP at the time that the WGA had uncovered a “disconnect” between organizations’ perceptions of their funding and the amount actually in their accounts.

Bradley described a number of systemic issues — including errors with the platform used to reimburse students and pay vendors, problems with the financial software that reports account balances, and "extreme delays" in submissions for expense reimbursements.

In response to a request for comment for this article, Bradley directed the DP to his prior remarks and a letter regarding the WGA's response to the widespread financial issues, which was sent to all club leaders at the time. Bradley did not respond to a followup request about how this response impacted Penn Fight Night. 

Chhavi Gupta, the WGA’s vice president of clubs and conferences, wrote in an email to the DP that the Fight Night committee was among the clubs which had its balance reset for this year.

However, multiple individuals directly familiar with the situation contended that Penn Fight Night was told that the WGA's financial restructuring would not impact its donation — and that until January 2024, the WGA continued to suggest the donation would be made in its entirety. 

“[Bradley] assured us that, although the money was going to get zeroed out as far as our balance, the Boys & Girls Clubs' promised donation didn't change,” one source told the DP. 

Another source — who alleged that Penn Fight Night suffered from poor financial management during the planning process of Penn Fight Night 2023, necessitating involvement from the Wharton administration — contended that Penn Fight Night was a key factor in the WGA's decision to reset organizations' balances.

"When I was told that WGA was basically seizing all of the accounts from all of us, I knew in the back of my mind, like, Fight Night is the catalyst of this," the source said.

A donation never completed

Several sources claimed that in November 2023, the WGA said it would be able to begin making incremental payments to the Clubs. The first donation, consisting of $50,000, was sent on Nov. 8, 2023. 

Around the time that the second donation — consisting of $25,000 — was sent to the Clubs in early 2024, WGA leadership communicated that the Clubs would not receive any further funds, multiple sources told the DP.

None of the sources with whom the DP spoke for this article were personally familiar with where the funds intended for the Clubs currently are. 

"I know that a lot of money went missing that should have been in the account," one leader contended, citing the amount of tickets sold and revenue that should have been generated by the event.

Credit: Yuzhong Qian The Wharton Boxing Club and the Penn Law Boxing Club host the 10th annual Wharton vs. Penn Law Fight Night on March 29, 2014.

One Fight Night leader spoke of a meeting in early 2024 with Wharton administration — including Wharton Vice Dean of Graduate Student Affairs Maryellen Reilly — in response to the decision not to complete the donation in full. In this meeting, the leader alleged that administrators were “not having it" and seemed surprised that the leader cared about the donation being fulfilled.

“They were deeply dismissive, condescending, [and] patronizing,” the leader said of Wharton administrators. “The energy I got was a deep sense of surprise that I would give a shit.”

When the DP contacted Reilly for comment, a Wharton spokesperson responded with a modified version of its earlier statement.

“The University conducted a multi-year independent audit of the WGA’s financials and shared the findings with the WGA, club and conference leaders, and Wharton administrators in Fall 2023,” the spokesperson wrote. “The Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia received a $75,000 donation following the 2023 Penn Fight Night event, which is financially in line with previous donations from Fight Night events.”

The characterization of the $75,000 donation as consistent with prior Penn Fight Night events differs from information available to the DP. A post available on Penn Fight Night's Instagram reads that the 2022 event raised over $175,000 for the Clubs, and publicly available WGA tax filings show that it donated $173,000 to the Clubs in the fiscal year ending in June 2022.

As it became apparent in February that the Clubs would not receive the remaining $90,000 of the event proceeds, the majority of the law students on the Fight Night Committee resigned from their positions in protest, according to multiple sources.

The students' resignation letter reads: "We believed that this committee had the potential to make a meaningful impact by strengthening our relationship with the Boys & Girls Club; to redefine the culture of the event to bring attention back to the Boys & Girls Club."

“Unfortunately, our attempts to address this concern within the committee have not yielded the desired results… We feel compelled to direct our energy towards initiatives that uphold their values and are committed to making a positive difference in the community," the statement continues.

Multiple sources also spoke of the importance of Penn Fight Night’s donations to the Clubs' operations. The sources characterized the Club as “incredibly disappointed” upon being told that they would not receive the full $165,000, having made budgeting decisions based on the expectation of receiving it.

“[The Boys & Girls Club] made it very clear that the money — which goes toward their literary program in particular — is critically necessary,” one said. “From their position, they're a nonprofit, just trying to do good for children in the community, [and] their ultimate concern is getting funding for the kids.”

Several sources criticized the Wharton administration and WGA’s lack of care for the charity and its purpose.

“For some reason, WGA and Wharton are under the impression that the Boys & Girls Club should be grateful for anything that they do,” one said. “If they're not thankful, I know what's been floated before is that Fight Night has to find a new charity at that point.”

The 2023 Penn Fight Night event was sponsored by several corporations, including Juno — a company to help students receive loans with low interest rates.

“Our organization takes these allegations very seriously and is conducting an investigation," Juno General Manager ​​Nicolas Echegaray said in a statement to the DP. "We will continue to find ways to support important causes, and of course, help everyone save money on their student loans."

Michael Krone, the president of Penn's Graduate and Professional Student Assembly — which provides funding to Penn Fight Night and is listed as one of the event's sponsors on its website — wrote that his understanding was that Penn Fight Night donates all profit raised through the event to the Clubs.

The remainder of the 2023 Penn Fight Night event sponsors did not respond to requests for comment.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi Penn Fight Night is held annually at the Palestra.

Legal and moral obligations

As of the time of publication, Penn Fight Night is scheduled to host its 2024 event on April 6, with ticket sales having begun on Feb. 23. Advertising for the event states that it benefits the Clubs' literacy initiative.

Seven participants in Penn Fight Night’s 2023 event told the DP that they participated in part because they were told the funds raised would be donated to charity. 2023 Wharton MBA program graduate Kiet Nguyen — who was one of the 10 fighters on the Wharton side of the event — said he was inspired to participate because he had benefitted from after-school programs in grade school, leading him to view support for the Boys & Girls Club of Philadelphia as an “important cause.” 

Another participant in Fight Night 2023, who requested anonymity due to fear of harassment, said that all of the fighters visited the Clubs to host a boxing clinic. The participant added that it was made “explicitly clear” that the event was to benefit the Clubs.

The fighter — who voiced familiarity with the allegations against the WGA — said that they would feel “obviously not great” if the funds were not conveyed to the charity. They added, however, that they would participate in Penn Fight Night regardless of whether it was for charity — and would prefer that event organizers not falsely suggest the funds will be donated.

“If you're gonna say that it's for charity, and things don't necessarily end up the way that that you perceive them to be, then I'd feel pretty dumb and not great about what I was doing,” the fighter said.

According to legal experts consulted by the DP, the WGA would be unlikely to face legal liability to the Clubs for not providing the entire donation. 

Three professors indicated that whether the WGA can be held liable depends on whether a legally binding contract existed between the WGA and the Clubs. 

“There's no binding obligation for the organization to give any particular amount of money, or even to give any money in any given year, even if the organization has given money in past years, absent some sort of contractual relationship,” Hofstra University Deane School of Law professor Norman Silber said, while cautioning that he is not a member of the Pennsylvania bar. 

Silber and Temple University Beasley School of Law professor Jonathan Lipson expressed skepticism, respectively, that the email from Shah or an organization's promises to make a gift to charity could be seen as an enforceable contract.

“If the donors thought that they were donating money to this organization for the benefit of this charity, and it didn't go to them, they [may] have claims against the organization," Lipson said. 

The experts added that any potential legal claims would likely not arise from the Clubs, but rather from sponsors who supported the event and people who bought tickets or donated under the impression that their money would go toward the Clubs.

Regardless of potential legal action, multiple students shared their belief that the WGA has a moral obligation to fulfill the donation to the Clubs in its entirety.

“I think marketing this event with the Boys & Girls Club without the intent to actually uphold their end of the bargain is extremely problematic,” one said. “This is supposed to be a charity event, not just another party — and that's what this is becoming.”

Staff Reporter Sheen Gupta and Deputy Sports Editor Sean McKeown contributed reporting to this article.