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Former Tech Staffers Implicated in Thefts

By Keith J. Winstein

NEWS EDITOR

Four former MIT students, including three former members of The Tech’s business staff, have been charged with embezzling from the organization’s bank accounts, and criminal prosecutions are ongoing. After their arraignments, three of the students failed to appear at subsequent court hearings and the court issued warrants for their arrest.

The accusations were made in two applications for criminal complaints filed with the Cambridge District Court on Feb. 28 and March 19, 2002, but not discovered by The Tech until recently.

The alleged thieves are Huanne T. Thomas ’02, Jasmine Richards ’02, Dashonn Graves ’03, and Stacey Winston ’02. Thomas and Richards have each served as The Tech’s business manager, an executive-level position. Graves is a former member of the business staff.

Thomas and Graves were still listed as members of the business staff in the paper’s masthead, but Sandra M. Chung ’04, chairman of The Tech, said a production error was responsible.

John E. Driscoll, deputy chief of the MIT Police, signed the applications, accusing the four of larceny and credit card fraud of between $250 and $25,000. Members of The Tech’s managing board have previously estimated the total amount of money stolen at $50,000.

The court accepted Driscoll’s applications and issued criminal complaints, which officially started the criminal proceedings, against Thomas and Graves on April 2, and against Richards and Winston on May 1. The office of the Middlesex district attorney is handling the cases against the four defendants, who are expected to be tried separately.

Thomas signed statement on thefts

As part of its submissions in the cases, the prosecution has included a March 7 statement, signed by Thomas, that seems to confess embezzlement and implicate Richards, Graves, and Winston.

“The three others who may have charged (credited) their credit card accounts are Dashonn Graves, Stacey Winston, and Jasmine Richards,” reads the handwritten statement. “Of these three, only Dashonn Graves and Jasmine Richards have explicitly admitted their involvement to me. Similar to the checks I wrote in payment of my credit card bills, I am aware of at least one instance where Jasmine Richards did the same.”

The statement appears to refer to the already-known method of embezzlement -- using The Tech’s credit-card point-of-sale terminal to issue phony “refunds” to credit card accounts that had never previously been billed -- as well as a more direct technique: writing undocumented checks drawn on The Tech’s bank account, which Richards, and later Thomas, supervised.

In a brief interview, Thomas said she was “not at liberty to say” under what circumstances she had signed the statement, nor to discuss her case. Graves, Winston, and Richards could not be reached for comment.

Thomas’ attorney Willie J. Davis said he was not aware of the statement, but that “just because she made a statement that’s tantamount to a confession doesn’t mean the court will hear it, because there’s always a motion to suppress ... depending on the circumstances in which the statement was made.”

Three students become fugitives

After being arraigned on June 5, Graves, Winston, and Richards failed to appear at subsequent pre-trial hearings in August, and warrants were issued for their arrest.

Donald F. DeMayo, who was Winston’s court-appointed attorney until she failed to appear, said “her whereabouts are unknown.”

“Sooner or later she’ll be picked up or something,” he said. “They’ll just put her in cuffs and bring her in. At that point she’ll be appointed a new lawyer.”

Richards’ court-appointed attorney, Thomas R. Glover, said her arrest warrant was the result of a clerk’s failure to note in her case file that a motion to reschedule a hearing had been granted.

Graves’ attorney, also court-appointed, did not return calls seeking comment.

None of the defendants’ attorneys reached by The Tech were willing to discuss the substance of the accusations.

COD held hearings into thefts

Although the criminal proceedings were initiated in February and March and have included several hearings over the summer, The Tech’s news department did not learn of their existence until recently. MIT officials and The Tech’s internal investigatory committee had refused to discuss the theft investigations’ progress, because of then-ongoing hearings before the MIT Committee on Discipline, according to MIT officials.

Thomas’ attorney Davis said there were hearings before the MIT Committee on Discipline, but said he did not know the outcome. MIT officials acknowledged the existence of the hearings, but declined to reveal their outcome. The chair of The Tech’s internal investigatory committee, Senior Editor Rima Arnaout ’02, did not return calls seeking comment.

Although they are former members of the class of 2002, Thomas, Winston, and Richards are not listed in the Alumni Association’s database of graduates, but it is unclear whether this is a result of a disciplinary committee decision.

COD may not have known of cases

Even while holding hearings into the matter, the Committee on Discipline may have been unaware of the concurrent criminal cases. Assistant Dean Carol Orme-Johnson, staff to the committee, appears not to have known of their existence when she spoke to The Tech in late April, when she said she did not know if the investigations into the thefts had identified any suspects, and that “There may be criminal charges if the thief is identified.”

Informed in a recent interview that MIT had first filed its accusations on Feb. 28, two months before her comments, she seemed surprised, saying, “In February. Wow, that’s interesting to know.”

“I don't have any first-hand knowledge of court cases,” she said. “I hear lots of things, but I can't comment on various stories I hear around the Institute.”

Professor Derek Rowell, the disciplinary committee chair, declined to comment, saying his committee had secured an agreement that The Tech would not publish articles “on that issue whatsoever,” and that this article would constitute a breach of that agreement.

“If you’re going to publish anything, there will be repercussions for The Tech,” he said in an interview.

Tracy F. Purinton, the assistant dean for student activities, said she was unaware of such an agreement.

Instead, she said, “I think the agreement was that those students [on The Tech’s investigatory committee] who were privy to that information would not report on it.”

The Tech never made any agreement with the COD not to publish information which is freely available to the public in court documents,” said then-Editor in Chief Kevin R. Lang G.

Members of The Tech investigatory committee referred inquiries to Arnaout, who did not return calls seeking comment.