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Tech Fraud Over $77K, Committee Reports

By Naveen Sunkavally

STAFF REPORTER

The Tech lost more than $77,000 from fraudulent credit card transactions and forged checks over the last two years, according to a report recently released to the Managing Board, the group consisting of the organization’s editors. The figure is significantly higher than the previously reported estimate of $50,000. The Tech’s annual budget is about $400,000.

MIT has filed a Proof of Loss with its insurers for the amount of $80,000, according to the report, written by The Tech’s now-disbanded investigative committee. Since MIT’s insurance policy appears to have a $40,000 deductible, the report says, at most $40,000 can be recovered from insurance.

“I am optimistic that we will get a good portion of the money back,” said Tech Chairman Sandra M. Chung ’04. The Tech is currently participating in an MIT audit of its financial records that may aid the MIT police investigation into The Tech’s losses, Chung said.

Credit card losses total $54,000

The report attributes about $54,000 of the loss to abuse of The Tech’s credit card machine, which was apparently used to issue illicit refunds directly from The Tech’s outside checking account with Cambridge Trust Company.

The refund feature of the credit card terminal was password-protected, but it is unclear which business staffers knew the password.

Of the $54,000 lost, about $37,000 was traced back to the credit card number of former Tech business staffer Dashonn Graves ’03. According to the report, Graves’ credit card number was the target of 45 suspicious refunds from April to December 2001, for amounts as high as $2,400. Graves is scheduled to appear Nov. 15 for a pre-trial hearing at Cambridge District Court on charges of larceny and credit card fraud over $250.

Dale Marie Merrill, Graves’ attorney, said she has represented other MIT students in cases of credit card fraud and described the problem as “rampant” on this campus. She declined to discuss these other cases or Graves’ case.

In addition to Graves, the report implicated three other MIT students in The Tech’s losses. According to the report, the credit card numbers of Jasmine N. Richards ’02, Huanne T. Thomas ’02, and Stacey Winston ’02 received suspicious refunds of $6,600, $1,200, and $900, respectively.

Managers alleged to forge checks

Richards and Thomas, both former Tech business managers, were also described in the report as the recipients of about 30 suspicious checks drawn on The Tech’s accounts, totaling about $23,000 and dated as far back as April 2000.

These checks were deemed suspicious if they were made out to credit card companies for personal credit card bills, or directly to the students themselves. Some of these checks were found to be forged using the signature of former Tech chairman Satwiksai Seshasai ’01.

Winston and Richards are scheduled to appear for pre-trial hearings at Cambridge District Court on Nov. 5 and Nov. 15, respectively. Thomas received pre-trial probation at Cambridge District Court on Sept. 6 and was ordered to pay $15,784 in restitution.