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Former MIT Student Placed on Probation

By Veena Ramaswamy

STAFF REPORTER

Former MIT student Mark L. Strauss ’02 was sentenced to three years probation, including six months of house arrest, for operating a mail fraud scheme involving the sale of computers and other equipment stolen from MIT over eBay.

Strauss’ sentence, issued in federal court Jan. 3, also includes $30,000 in restitution to the Institute and to an eBay purchaser who returned his stolen system to MIT. He is also required to serve 250 hours of community service and undergo counseling.

Strauss charged in federal court

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeanne Kempthorne, who prosecuted Strauss, said that in court Chief U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young told the defendant that the government had been very generous in this case. Strauss had pleaded guilty on Oct. 28, 2002 to one felony count of mail fraud.

Strauss was charged with mail fraud, a federal crime, because he mailed the goods to purchasers on eBay by selling something he purported to own even though he did not own the items. The interstate shipment of these items was the reason that Strauss was charged with committing a federal crime.

Admission lessened sentence

Kempthorne said that by admitting his crime, Strauss fell under a sentencing guideline that calls for reductions based on acceptance of responsibility.

Strauss admitted to MIT that over an 18-month period, he stole computers, laboratory equipment, and other items from MIT’s chemical engineering and chemistry departments. He then sold the items via eBay, the Internet auction site. At the Jan. 3 sentencing, Strauss apologized for the harm he caused to numerous people at MIT.

Kempthorne said that the greatest difficulty with this case was proving the amount of loss. “We couldn’t show that all of it was stolen property,” she said. “It’s impossible once gone [sold off of eBay] to prove that it was stolen,” Kempthorne said.

Strauss, a chemical engineering major, was arraigned on March 21, 2002, and arrested the day before the arraignment.

Strauss was a member of the Zeta Psi fraternity, but house president Matthew D. Aichele ’03 said that Strauss had been removed from MIT’s chapter. Aichele also said that that the fraternity was “not at all in contact [with Strauss].”